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Czech Republic mourns victims of worst mass shooting in its history

Mourners lay candle lights outside the headquarters of Charles University for victims of mass shooting in Prague, 22 December 2023
Mourners lay candle lights outside the headquarters of Charles University for victims of mass shooting in Prague, 22 December 2023 Copyright AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Copyright AP Photo/Petr David Josek
By Euronews
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Authorities say 14 people were killed and 25 wounded in the mass shooting in the Czech capital's historic centre on Thursday.

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National flags on public buildings were at half-staff and people across the Czech Republic are set to observe a minute of silence as the country holds a day of national mourning on Saturday to honour the victims of the worst mass shooting in Czech history.

The Thursday attack in Prague's historic centre left 14 people dead and injured 25 others.

Investigators believe the 24-year-old gunman in the mass shooting in a philosophy department building at Charles University also killed his father earlier in the day, and another man and a baby last week.

Residents were grappling with the nation's worst mass shooting in the heart of the historic capital city. Political leaders, students, friends of the victims and others came together to light candles during an impromptu vigil for the victims on Friday.

“A few of my friends study at the philosophy faculty at Charles University," said Kristof Unger, a student who attended the vigil. "They have been really traumatised by the shooting there and I just wanted to make them feel a little bit better.”

Robert Hanus, another of the vigil's attendees, said everyone should come together to take a stand against the attack. “This shouldn't be normalized,” he said.

The university’s rector, Milena Kralickova, was also among the throngs lighting candles. "The academic community is shaken, deeply shaken,” she said.

Authorities have not named or provided specific details about the victims but said that three of those injured were foreign nationals — two from Saudi Arabia and one from the Netherlands. 

Interior Minister Vit Rakusan said on the radio on Friday that police have identified all 14 victims. Among them, 13 died at the scene of the shooting and one died later in the hospital.

Some of the victims were classmates of the gunman, while the Institute of Music Sciences confirmed that its head, Lenka Hlávková, was among the dead.

The shooter, partially identified as David K, committed suicide after the shooting, said police on Friday. Petr Matejcek, the director of the police regional headquarters in Prague said he shot himself on the balcony of the university building when police officers approached him.

Unknown to authorities, he had a "huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition" and that rapid police action had prevented further carnage, detailed police chief Martin Vondrasek. 

Well wishers light candles for the shooting victims at the Charles University main office in central Prague, on December 21, 2023.
Well wishers light candles for the shooting victims at the Charles University main office in central Prague, on December 21, 2023.MICHAL CIZEK/AFP or licensors

Police said the 24-year-old had been inspired by "a similar terrible event abroad".

They are now working to find a motive behind what is the country's worst mass shooting, though officers have said they do not believe it was an act of terrorism.

Vondrasek said police were already searching for the student before the shooting began after his father was found dead in the village of Hostoun, west of the capital. It's unclear whether he killed him.

David K had "left for Prague saying he wanted to kill himself," according to the chief of police. 

Czech President Petr Pavel said the killings should not be politicised or fuel misinformation. He called for national unity, revealing his "helpless anger" towards the incident.

Police said there's no longer any danger, though they will continue to monitor vulnerable locations on Friday, including schools. A national day of morning is planned for Saturday. 

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What do we know about the shooting?

The shooting began at around 15:00 local time on Thursday. Twenty minutes later, police found the shooter dead.

The gunman reportedly opened fire in the university's corridors and classrooms, seemingly killing people at random.

Police officers, already on the scene when the shooting started, sealed off the area and advised people to leave the surrounding streets and stay indoors while the incident unfolded. 

Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda confirmed the university's philosophy department had been evacuated.

Officers first searched a building at the Faculty of Arts, where the gunman was supposed to be attending class. They then went to the main building, where the shooting took place.

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An ambulance drives towards the building of Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in downtown Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023.
An ambulance drives towards the building of Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in downtown Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023.AP Photo/Petr David Josek

The attacker was on the roof when police responded to the shooting. He then shot himself after seeing that officers were surrounding him, reportedly falling off the roof. 

According to reports, police had information that an attack at the school was imminent. 

Images purportedly of the shooter have been shared on social media. They show a man perched on a balcony and holding a rifle with a scope. One student shared an image of the door of his classroom barricaded to keep the shooter out.

Vondrasek said police believe the shooter was inspired by a "similar case in Russia". 

He also reported that police suspected the same gunman of killing a young man and his two-month-old daughter in a pram during a walk in a forest in Prague's eastern suburbs on 15 December.

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Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan previously urged the public to cooperate with the ongoing police investigation.

The square was cordoned off on Thursday. 

Of the 25 people who sustained injuries during the attack, nine remained in critical condition, as of Friday evening.

Pavel Nedoma, the director of the Rudolfinum Gallery also situated in the square, reported witnessing the assailant firing shots from a window towards the nearby Manes bridge spanning the Vltava River.

In response to the incident, Prime Minister Petr Fiala promptly cancelled his scheduled events and went to Prague, expressing his commitment to addressing the aftermath of the tragedy.

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