Czech Republic pays tribute to victims of university shooting

Minute of silence, flags at half-mast and masses across the country: the Czech Republic pays tribute on Saturday December 23 to the victims of the massacre which left 14 dead two days ago at the University of Prague, the worst attack of its type committed in the country

Czech Republic pays tribute to victims of university shooting

Minute of silence, flags at half-mast and masses across the country: the Czech Republic pays tribute on Saturday December 23 to the victims of the massacre which left 14 dead two days ago at the University of Prague, the worst attack of its type committed in the country.

The government asked Czechs to observe a minute's silence at midday, and bells were to ring at churches in the European Union and NATO member country, two days after a 24-year-old student created fear by opening fire in the university before committing suicide.

“We are all trying to build heaven on earth, but the reality of life shows us that evil exists,” said Prague Archbishop Jan Graubner, celebrating a mass for the victims in the castle's St. Vitus Cathedral from Prague. According to students attending the mass, President Petr Pavel was present.

Fourteen people died: thirteen at the time of the shooting which also left 25 injured, and one who succumbed to his injuries on Friday. “It is difficult to find the words to express, on the one hand, the condemnation and, on the other hand, the pain and sorrow that our entire population feels, in these days leading up to Christmas,” declared the Prime Minister, Petr Fiala.

Students lit thousands of candles in an improvised memorial in front of the Faculty of Arts and the headquarters of Charles University, in the historic center of the Czech capital. The identities of the victims, students and teachers, began to be published by their relatives and the school.

“It’s very hard for all of us,” the Institute of Musicology reported on Facebook after learning that its director, Lenka Hlavkova, 49, mother of two children, was among those killed. Other victims include Finnish literature expert Jan Dlask and student Lucie Spindlerova. A Dutch citizen and two from the United Arab Emirates are among the injured.

Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said no link could be established between the attack and “international terrorism” and that the attacker had acted on his own.

“Huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition”

Since Thursday, police have arrested four people who threatened to repeat the attack, or approved it. Police surveillance will be organized around certain sites and school buildings, at least until January 1, Vit Rakusan said. The police chief, Martin Vondrasek, stressed that the assailant, unknown to the courts, had a “huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition”. He said inspecting the crime scene had been “the most harrowing experience” of his thirty-one years of police service.

According to Mr. Vondrasek, the police had started searching for the student even before the shooting because his father's lifeless body had been discovered in the village of Hostoun, west of Prague. The student also told a friend that he was considering suicide in Prague. The police then searched a building at the Faculty of Arts where the murderer was supposed to report for a class, but he eventually went nearby, to the main body of the university.

Around 3 p.m. (local time), police were alerted to shootings and sent a response unit to the scene. Twenty minutes later, the attacker was dead. According to the shooter's account on social networks, the latter claimed to have been inspired by a similar attack in Russia, explained Mr. Vondrasek.

“It could have happened to anyone.”

After a search of the shooter's home, police established a link to the unsolved murder of a young man and his two-month-old daughter in a forest near Prague on December 15. “A ballistic analysis proved that the weapon used in the forest was identical to the one found at the home of the university shooter,” police said on X.

The shooting in the historic center of Prague, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the deadliest since the Czech Republic became an independent state in 1993.

Messages of condolences and sympathy have poured in from all over the world, coming from Pope Francis, American President Joe Biden, French Head of State Emmanuel Macron, his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, King Charles III, among others. . “It could have happened to anyone. Actually, it could have been me,” student Antonin Volavka said Friday, lighting a candle at the makeshift memorial.

The Czech Republic is the 12th safest country in the world, according to the 2023 Global Peace Index, and gun violence is rare there. But in 2015, a man shot seven men and a woman before killing himself at a Southeast restaurant, while another gunman killed seven people at an Eastern hospital and then himself, in 2019.