Scores of Serbian students, many dressed in black and carrying flowers, paid quiet tribute on Thursday to classmates murdered a day earlier when a 13-year-old boy used his father’s guns in a school shooting rampage that shocked the country and prompted calls for stricter gun control.
Students from all across the city flocked to the streets surrounding the school in central Belgrade. Thousands had gathered earlier to lay flowers, light candles, and leave toys in memory of the eight children and a school guard ki!!ed on Wednesday morning.
People sobbed and hugged outside the school as they stood in front of flower bouquets, teddy bears, and soccer balls. A gray and pink toy elephant with messages of mourning was placed by the school fence, and a girl’s ballet shoes hung from the fence.
The Balkan nation is still coming to grips with what has occurred. Despite being awash in weaponry left over from the 1990s wars, mass shootings have been extraordinarily unusual and this is the first school massacre in Serbia’s modern history.
The tragedy also sparked a debate about the general state of the nation following decades of crises and conflicts whose aftermath has created a state of permanent insecurity and instability, along with deep political divisions.
Authorities on Thursday moved to boost gun control, as police urged citizens to lock up their guns and keep them safe, away from children.
Police have said that the teen used his father’s guns to carry out the attack. He had planned it for a month, drew sketches of classrooms, and made lists of the children he planned to kill, police said on Wednesday.
The boy, who had visited shooting ranges with his father and apparently had the code to his father’s safe, took two guns from the safe where they were stored together with the bullets, police said on Wednesday.
“The Ministry of Interior is appealing to all gun owners to store their guns with care, locked up in safes or closets so they are out of reach of others, particularly children,” police said in a statement that also announced tightened controls on gun owners in the future.
The shooting at Vladislav Ribnikar elementary school on Wednesday morning also hospitalized seven people, including six youngsters and a teacher. Doctors stated Thursday morning that a girl who was shot in the head is still in critical condition, while a boy is in serious condition with spinal damage.
Authorities announced the establishment of a helpline to assist people in dealing with the catastrophe. Hundreds responded to an appeal to donate blood for the injured victims. A three-day period of mourning will begin on Friday morning.
Teachers’ unions in Serbia have called for rallies and strikes to demand improvements and warn of a school system catastrophe. Authorities brushed off responsibility, with some officials blaming Western influence rather than the country’s severe social malaise.
The shooter, identified by authorities as Kosta Kecmanovic, has not explained his conduct.
When Kecmanovic first entered his school, he ki!!ed the guard and three kids in the corridor. He then proceeded to the history classroom and shot the teacher before turning his rifle on the students.
Kecmanovic then unloaded the revolver on the schoolyard and called the cops himself, even though a school official had previously notified them. When he contacted, Kecmanovic indicated he was a “psychopath who needs to calm down,” according to authorities.
Seven girls, one boy, and the school security guard were ki!!ed. According to France’s foreign minister, one of the girls was a French citizen.
Authorities have said that Kecmanovic is too young to be charged and tried. He has been placed in a mental institution while his father has been detained on suspicion of endangering public security because his son got hold of the guns.
“I think we are all guilty. I think each of us has some responsibility, that we allowed some things we should not allow (to happen),” said Zoran Sefik, a Belgrade resident, during Wednesday evening’s vigil near the school.
Jovan Lazovic, another Belgrade resident, said he was not surprised: “It was a matter of days when something like this could happen, having in mind what was happening in the world and here,” he said.
Gun culture is widespread in Serbia and elsewhere in the Balkans: The region is among the top in Europe in the number of guns per capita. Guns are often fired into the air at celebrations and the cult of the warrior is part of national identity. Still, the last mass shooting was in 2013 when a war veteran ki!!ed 13 people in a central Serbian village.
Experts have repeatedly warned of the danger posed by the number of weapons in a highly divided country like Serbia, where convicted war criminals are glorified and violence against minority groups often goes unpunished. They also note that decades of instability stemming from the conflicts of the 1990s as well as ongoing economic hardship could trigger such outbursts.
“We have had too much violence for too long,” psychologist Zarko Trebjesanin told N1 television. “Children copy models. We need to eliminate negative models … and create a different system of values.”