Day of mourning declared after 14 killed in Prague mass shooting

Flags will fly at half-mast on December 23 as people observe a minute’s silence for the victims of the attack at Prague’s Charles University.

A woman lighting candles outside Charles University after the shooting
People began lighting candles outside the university for those killed in the shooting [David W Cerny/Reuters]

The Czech Republic has declared a day of mourning after a 24-year-old student shot dead his father, before killing 14 people and wounding 25 others at his Prague university in the country’s worst-ever mass shooting.

Following a special cabinet meeting, President Petr Pavel said December 23 would be a day of mourning with flags on official buildings to be flown at half-mast and people asked to observe a minute’s silence at noon.

“I would express my great sadness along with helpless anger at the unnecessary loss of so many young lives,” Pavel said.

“I would like to express my sincere condolences to all relatives of the victims, to all who were at this tragic incident, the most tragic in the history of the Czech Republic.”

The shooting erupted on Thursday afternoon at the Charles University’s Faculty of Arts, across the river from Prague Castle and near other historic sites in the picturesque city including the 14th-century Charles Bridge.

Media images showed students evacuating the building with their hands in the air, and others perched on a ledge near the roof trying to hide from the attacker, while students barricaded classrooms with desks and chairs.

“I can confirm 14 victims of the horrible crime and 25 wounded, of which 10 seriously,” police chief Martin Vondrasek told reporters after the shooting.

An ambulance with its lights flashing heading towards the Charles University. A police officer is in front. The building is behind.
The shooting targeted the historic Charles University in the centre of Prague [Petr David Josek/AP Photo]

All the victims were killed inside the building, he added. Media reports said at least some of them were the gunman’s fellow students.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said one of the injured was a Dutch national.

People lit candles outside the university, which was established in 1348 and is one of the oldest in central Europe.

“We mourn the loss of life of members of our university community, express our deepest condolences to all the bereaved, and our thoughts are with all those affected by the tragedy,” Charles University said in a statement.

Lives wasted

Vondrasek said the gunman, previously unknown to the police, had a large number of legally owned weapons and that swift police action after a tip-off earlier in the day had prevented even worse carnage.

Police evacuated a Faculty of Arts building where the gunman was due to attend a lecture, but were then called to the faculty’s larger main building, arriving within minutes after reports of the shooting, Vondrasek said.

Police had “unconfirmed information from an account on a social network that he was supposedly inspired by one terrorist attack in Russia in the autumn of this year,” Vondrasek told reporters, describing the attack as a “pre-mediated horrific act”.

Authorities did not name the gunman but said he was a high-achieving student with no prior criminal record. His death was probably a suicide, but authorities were also investigating whether he might have been killed by police who returned fire.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the “lone gunman … wasted many lives of mostly young people”.

“There is no justification for this horrendous act,” he added.

United States’ President Joe Biden condemned the “senseless” attack and the White House said the US was ready to offer assistance.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “solidarity” with the Czech people, as did other European leaders including EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Police on the balcony of the Philosophy Building which was targeted in the shooting
Police said all those killed died in the building and at least some of them were the gunman’s fellow students [Petr David Josek/AP Photo]

Later on Thursday, Vondrasek said that based on a search of his home, the gunman was also suspected in the killing of another man and his 2-month-old daughter in Prague on December 15.

Gun crime is relatively rare in the Czech Republic.

In December 2019, a 42-year-old gunman killed six people in a hospital waiting room in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava before fleeing and fatally shooting himself, police said.

In 2015, a man fatally shot eight people and then killed himself at a restaurant in Uhersky Brod.

Source: News Agencies