A massive manhunt in southern Germany for a black-clad gunman who has shot dead at least 15 people and wounded many more at a school ended with the killer taking his own life.
After the massacre at the Albertville Realschule in Winnenden near Stuttgart, disgruntled former pupil Tim Kretschmer, 17, hijacked a car to flee a police dragnet.
At 12.31pm he shot himself in the car park of a shopping centre in nearby Weiblingen.
Friends described Kretschmer as a quiet, good-looking boy from a well-off family who had friends only interested in his money. Others said he had an arsenal air guns and hundreds of horror films in his bedroom and was a talented marksman. His father owns a "small arsenal" of at least 18 guns used for hunting. It is believed Kretschner used one of these weapons on his deadly rampage.
After the shootings, the killer escaped on foot and hijacked a black VW Sharan to escape through the dragnet of armed police. He told the shocked driver to "get me out of town". On the autobahn to Stuttgart 18 kilometres away, he released his hostage and drove off. The killer's body was found soon after.
The student was "known" to police through a long history of troublemaking. He left the school two years ago, it was reported.
Police stormed his home shortly after the killing spree and took his mother into custody for questioning. It was reported that his father is a wealthy businessman.
The shootings happened shortly after 9.30am in the town of 27,000. It is unclear what kind of weapon the gunman - who was masked - was using, although eyewitnesses said it was a rifle that he had slung over his shoulder.
One thousand pupils were in the school when the bloodbath began.
The killings took place in two classrooms and a corridor.
At least 16 people died at the scene, including at least one adult.
Frank Nipkau, who works for a local paper in the town, told a national TV broadcaster: "It is chaos. The school has been sealed off and the medics are in there. We are told that it is a gruesome sight. He just opened up at random.
Police spoke of the classrooms and corridor "running with blood" and an appeal went out to local people to donate blood for transfusions for the wounded.
Media reports spoke of girls and boys being among the victims.
A fleet of ambulances raced to the scene as police scrambled a helicopter and armed elite SEK units to pursue the gunman who fled into the old town district of Winnenden.
Psychologists were brought in by local authorities to deal with the shocked survivors who stumbled, many of them in tears, through the school gates.
They were taken to a local swimming pool where anguished parents arrived in droves praying that their offspring were not among the victims.
Police issued an urgent bulletin to motorists not to pick up hitch-hikers while the gunman had remained on the loose. But he still managed to escape the dragnet.
Jens Hoffmann, a prominent TV psychologist, said: "The criminal will be an intensely paranoid individual who feels the whole world is against him."
School shootings have been on the rise in Germany in recent years. In February 2002, a 22-year-old gunman killed the headmaster and seriously injured another person in a vocational training centre he attended at Freising, near Munich.
One of the worst occurred in April 2002 when expelled student Robert Steinhauser gunned down 16 people before turning his gun on himself.
In November 2006, a former student at a vocational school in Lower Saxony, in northwestern Germany, went a shooting spree in the establishment, injuring 37 people before turning his gun on himself.
The massacre was condemned worldwide
Lebanon's Democratic Gathering leader and head of the Progressive Socialist Party ( PSP) MP Walid Jumblatt sent a cable to German Chancellor Angela Merckel in which he denounced the crime , according to local media reports
Photo : Tim Kretschmer. Fired more than 100 shots on Wednesday and killed at least 15 , police say. He was treated between last April and September for depression
Tags: Germany, Lebanon, terrorism