A teenage boy opened fire in a school in the Serbian capital of Belgrade just after lessons began on Wednesday morning, killing eight children and a security guard and seriously injuring several others, officials said.
The boy – a 13-year-old student at the school – allegedly sketched out the attack in advance on crumpled pieces of paper that officials displayed at a somber press conference. He called police himself after the shootings, they said.
The rare and possibly unprecedented event, in a nation with strict firearms laws yet high levels of gun ownership, sent shockwaves through the local community and beyond.
First reports of the shooting emerged not long after students arrived to begin the day at Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary School, a well-known institution in Vračar, an upscale area of the Serbian capital. Panicked parents rushed to the scene.
Seven girls and one boy were killed, alongside the security guard, Belgrade’s Police Chief Veselin Milić said at a press conference. A female student with French nationality was among those killed on Wednesday, said the French foreign ministry.
A further six children and one teacher were hospitalized, Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said.
The suspect opened fire in a history classroom, “because it was near the entrance of the school,” he added.
He killed the security guard first, then went to another classroom where he shot some of his schoolmates, Milić said. The teenager then telephoned the police and waited to be arrested in the schoolyard.
The alleged shooter was later filmed being taken from the school in handcuffs with a jacket over his head and wearing blue, skinny jeans. He was flanked by police officers and driven away in an unmarked police car.
According to Serbia’s Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic, the boy brought two guns from home. “The parent had several pieces of weapon and kept them locked up. The safe had a code. Obviously the kid had the code as soon as he managed to get hold of those two guns. And three frames full of 15 bullets each.”
Milić, the police chief, said the boy had a 9mm pistol and a small caliber pistol in a bag, as well as four Molotov cocktails.
Officials said the shooting was premeditated, and displayed sheets of paper that allegedly showed the suspect’s plans for the attack.
The suspect’s father and mother were also arrested, according to Serbian officials, who added that it was known that the father had previously visited a shooting range with his son, whose age was first given as 14.
The prosecutor’s office said the father was ordered to be detained for up to 48 hours on “suspicion of having committed the criminal offense of Serious Offenses against General Security.”
The 13 year old suspect would be placed in a special psychiatric institution, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said, adding that the shooting suspect did not show remorse.
The prosecutor’s office said that boy’s blood was taken for toxicological analysis to determine whether he was under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, or other psychoactive substances at the time of the shooting.
“All the circumstances of this case, how he got the gun, as well as the motives of this heinous crime are being investigated,” the statement said.
Parents struggled to come to terms with the shooting. The father of one student said he ran to the school to look for his daughter after seeing police at the scene, according to CNN affiliate N1.
“My child is still in shock, full of adrenaline, we haven’t been able to calm her down,” a mother of one child told N1.
Another father recounted a chaotic morning. “I was heading to the bank, and I saw a bunch of police. That was around 8:50. I came running. I saw the school psychologist, I saw the school staff, the teachers who were in shock,” the father told N1.
“The police came quickly, from what I could see. I asked: ‘Where’s my kid?’ And allegedly, one man said that the history teacher was shot. I went back to my apartment to look at my child’s schedule, and she was actually in history class. I took my wife with me and we went back out on the street,” he said.
“I saw that the security guard was lying under a table, in a circle [of blood] I went through the door looking for an attendant. I didn’t know what to do. I asked ‘Where’s my kid?’ and no one was saying anything,” the father said.
The man later learned that his daughter had escaped unharmed.
The interior ministry said in a statement on Facebook that it was told of the incident at 8.40 a.m. local time (2.40 a.m. ET). “All available police patrols were dispatched to the scene, where they immediately went onto the school grounds and apprehended a minor, a seventh-grader who is suspected to have fired several shots from his father’s gun at students and the school security guard,” the statement said.
A schoolgirl injured in the shooting has life-threatening wounds and was undergoing surgery, N1 reported.
“The wounded are being administered medical care, while the police work to establish the facts and circumstances that led to this incident,” the ministry statement said.
“All police forces are still on the ground and are intensively working to shed light on all the facts and circumstances that led to this tragedy,” it added.
As the country reels from the shooting, Serbian President Vucic suggested at a press conference on Wednesday that the government should consider lowing the country’s age of criminal responsibility.
The current law on juvenile offenders states that minors must be at least 14 years old to be criminally charged, with Vucic suggesting the age should be lowered to 12.
He justified his suggestion by arguing that “children are in present times becoming adults earlier” and added that the government would need to consult respected lawyers and international laws when considering his suggestion.
Vucic added that officials have “doubts that this boy knew he wouldn’t be prosecuted,” and also suggested mandatory anti-drug tests in schools every six months and said the government would work to have more police officers in schools.
Serbia has a high level of gun ownership following its conflict with Kosovo in the 1990s; a 2018 study found that the country has the third highest level of gun ownership in the world, tied with Montenegro and behind only the US and Yemen.
But the country has strict gun laws and has issued amnesties for owners to hand in or register illegal firearms, meaning that mass shootings are comparatively rare, according to Reuters.