The Jehovah’s Witnesses expressed shock Saturday over the deadly shooting at one of the group’s halls in Hamburg, Germany, but thanked German authorities for preventing more bloodshed through their swift intervention during the attack.
A gunman shot dead six members of the Hamburg congregation and wounded eight others, including a woman who lost her unborn child, before killing himself late Thursday. The shooting drew widespread condemnation and calls for a tightening of Germany’s firearms laws.
In a statement, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany confirmed that the man police identified as the gunman was a former member who left the church voluntarily two years ago.
“We do not know the motive for this terrible crime,” it said. “Like the rest of the world, we were shocked and bewildered when we read (…) that the gunman reportedly bore `particular anger’ not just toward the Jehovah’s Witnesses but also toward other religious groups and his former employer.”
Officials identified the shooter only as 35-year-old Philipp F., in line with German privacy laws, and said that his departure from the church was “apparently not on good terms.” The investigation into his motives was ongoing.
A website registered in the man’s name stated that he grew up in “a strict religious evangelical household” the Bavaria state town of Kempten.
Police said Philipp F. had only legally acquired a gun in December and was visited by officers two months later after an anonymous tip suggested that he might be psychologically unfit to own the weapon and was angry at the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Officers found the man to be cooperative and decided there were no grounds to take away his weapon, police said.
In its statement, The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany expressed its deep sympathy for the families of the victims and the survivors, and said its focus was on providing pastoral care to everyone affected by the tragedy.
“At the same time, our sincere thanks go to the police, who undoubtedly prevented even more deaths and injuries due to their quick intervention,” it said.
The Hamburg congregation that was holding a service when the attack happened currently has about 60 members and is one of 47 in the port city, which is home to almost 4,000 denomination members, according to the statement.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim a worldwide membership of about 8.7 million, with about 170,000 in Germany. The religious movement was founded in the United States in the 19th century and is headquartered in Warwick, New York.
Members are known for their evangelistic efforts that include knocking on doors and distributing literature in public squares. The denomination’s practices include a refusal to bear arms, receive blood transfusions, salute a national flag or participate in secular government.