Student gunman kills 19 at Crimea college

Special forces servicemen patrol outside the college in the city of Kerch. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2018
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Student gunman kills 19 at Crimea college

  • The attacker Vladislav Roslyakov was caught on security cameras entering the college with a rifle and firing at students
  • Russian officials at first reported a gas explosion, then said an explosive device ripped through the college canteen

MOSCOW: An 18-year student strode into his vocational school in Crimea, a hoody covering his blond hair, then pulled out a shotgun and opened fire on Wednesday, killing 19 students and wounding more than 50 others before killing himself.
It wasn’t clear what prompted Vladislav Roslyakov, described as a shy loner, to go on the rampage. A security camera image carried by Russian media showed him calmly walking down the stairs of the school in the Black Sea city of Kerch, the shotgun in his gloved hand.
“He was walking around and shooting students and teachers in cold blood,” said Sergei Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea.
Officials said the fourth-year student killed himself in the library of the Kerch Polytechnic College after the attack. His mother, a nurse, was helping to treat victims at a local hospital after the shootings, unaware yet that her son was accused of the rampage and was already dead.
Such school shootings are rare, and Wednesday’s attack was by far the worst by a disgruntled student in Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. The bloodbath raised questions about school security in the country; the Kerch Polytechnic College had only a front desk with no security guards.
By the end of the day, the death toll stood at 19, though it was not clear if that figure included the shooter. Fifty-three people were wounded, including 12 in serious condition, Crimean authorities said.
It was the greatest loss of life in school violence in Russia since the Beslan terrorist attack by Chechen separatists in 2004, in which 333 people were killed during a three-day siege, many of them children, and hundreds were wounded.
The announcement that the shooter in Wednesday’s attack was a student who acted alone came after hours of rapidly shifting explanations as to what exactly happened at the school.
Officials at first reported a gas explosion, then said an explosive device had ripped through the cafeteria during lunchtime in a suspected terrorist attack.
Witnesses, however, reported that victims were being killed by gunfire. The Investigative Committee, Russia’s top crime investigation agency, eventually said all the victims died of gunshot wounds.
Reflecting the daylong confusion, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the victims were killed by an explosion just as the Investigative Committee was announcing they were fatally shot.
A somber-faced Putin deplored the attack as a “tragic event” and offered his condolences to the victims’ families at a news conference in the southern city of Sochi, where he was meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
The Investigative Committee said the explosive device rigged with shrapnel went off in the school lunchroom and Sergei Melikov, a deputy chief of the Russian National Guard, said it was homemade. Officials later found a second explosive device and destroyed it.
It was not clear what the explosive was, if the attacker detonated it, or how many people it wounded.
Guns are tightly restricted in Russia. Civilians can own only hunting rifles and smooth-bore shotguns and must undergo significant background checks. Roslyakov had only recently received a permit to own a shotgun and bought 150 cartridges just a few days ago, according to local officials.
Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea, said the gunman had been described as a shy boy who had no conflicts.
“He wasn’t aggressive, he was rather timid,” Aksyonov said, speculating that Roslyakov might have “watched some movies” that inspired him to go on the shooting spree.
Some Russian news reports said the shooter had left his backpack containing the explosive device in the cafeteria and remotely detonated it before he started shooting.
“I heard an explosion and saw glass shards and window frames falling down,” student Roman Voitenko said in remarks broadcast on Russian state television.
Another student, Semyon Gavrilov, said he had fallen asleep during a lecture and was awakened by the sound of shooting. He looked around and saw a young man shooting at people, he said.
“I locked the door, hoping he wouldn’t hear me,” Gavrilov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
He said police arrived about 10 minutes later to evacuate people and he saw dead bodies on the floor and charred walls.
Another student, Yuri Kerpek, told the state RIA Novosti news agency that the shooting went on for about 15 minutes.
Russia has seen several violent attacks by students in recent years, but none of them were even remotely as brutal as the Kerch rampage.
Early this year, a teenager armed with an ax attacked fellow students at a school in Buryatia in southern Siberia, wounding five students and a teacher. The attacker also ignited a firebomb in the class and tried to kill himself before being apprehended.
In another attack in January, two teenagers stabbed children and their teacher with knives, wounding 15 people, and then attempted to kill each other before being detained.
After Wednesday’s attack, local officials declared a state of emergency on the Black Sea peninsula and cordons of Russia’s National Guard circled the school. Security was also increased at a new 19-kilometer bridge linking the peninsula with Russia, which opened earlier this year. Military units were deployed near the college to help emergency agencies.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea triggered Western sanctions. Russia has also supported separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has left at least 10,000 people dead since 2014.
Over the past few years, Russian security agencies have arrested several Ukrainians accused of plotting terror attacks in Crimea, but no attacks have occurred.


Police official: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

Updated 57 min 22 sec ago
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Police official: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

  • Authorities have said Notre Dame was in danger of going up in flames before fire crews stopped it from spreading into a tower belfry

PARIS: Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, a police official said Thursday as France paid a daylong tribute to the firefighters who saved the world-renowned landmark.
A French judicial police official told The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by name about an ongoing investigation, said the cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks.
Earlier in the afternoon, French President Emmanuel Macron held a ceremony at the Elysee Palace to thank the hundreds of firefighters who battled the fast-moving for nine hours starting Monday evening. Authorities have said Notre Dame, which dates from the 12th century, was in danger of going up in flames before fire crews stopped it from spreading into a tower belfry.
Fire responders also rescued many of the important relics and works of art inside the cathedral.
“We’ve seen before our eyes the right things perfectly organized in a few moments, with responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization,” Macron said. “The worst has been avoided.”
Macron said the firefighters will receive an Honor Medal for their courage and devotion.
As the ceremony took place, investigators continued seeking clues to what sparked the fire. The huge cathedral, including the spire that was consumed by flames and collapsed, was in the initial stages of a lengthy restoration.
Investigators so far believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations. Some 40 people had been questioned by Thursday, according the Paris prosecutor’s office.
Fire officials warned that the building remains unstable and extremely dangerous, including for the construction workers who rushed to secure an area above one of the rose-shaped windows and other vulnerable sections of the fire-damaged structure.
Workers using a crane were removing some statues to lessen the weight on the cathedral’s fragile gables, or support walls, and to keep them from falling, since the section lacked the support of the massive timber roof that burned up in the devastating blaze.
Police, citing “important risks” of collapse and falling objects, officially closed Thursday a large swath of the island in the Seine River on which Notre Dame sits. The area had been unofficially blocked off since the fire.
Paris City Hall also was holding a ceremony in the firefighters’ honor Monday afternoon, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which began during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated those inside.
Among the firefighters honored Thursday was Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who says he was falsely credited with helping salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.
The chaplain said a team of rescuers broke the relic’s protective covering and an official who had the secret code to unlock the protection finished the job. Fournier told France Info on Thursday that his own team arrived on the heels of the salvaging and praised the action “to preserve this extraordinary relic, this patrimony of humanity.”
However, Fournier told the daily Le Parisian that he himself was able to save the most precious thing for Catholics from the fire, the cathedral’s consecrated hosts. The paper said he climbed on altars to remove large paintings, but that he felt especially proud of another personal salvaging operation: “to have removed Jesus” from the Cathedral.
For Catholics, consecrated hosts are the body of Christ.
Among others honored was Myriam Chudzinski, one of the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the cathedral’s narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers. She had trained at the site for hours for just this moment.
“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” she told reporters. “It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly.”
The building would have burned to the ground in a “chain-reaction collapse” had firefighters not moved as rapidly as they did to battle the blaze racing through the building, José Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France’s Culture Ministry, said Wednesday.
An initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m., as a Mass was underway in the cathedral, but no fire was found. A second alarm went off at 6:43 p.m., and the blaze was discovered already consuming the roof.
Macron wants to rebuild the cathedral within five years — in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics that Paris is hosting — but experts say the vast scale of the work to be done could easily take 15 years, since it will take months, even years, just to figure out what should be done. Nearly $1 billion has been pledged for the cathedral’s restoration.
Benedicte Contamin, who came to view the damaged cathedral from afar Thursday, said she’s sad but grateful it’s still there.
“It’s a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,” she said.