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A student and his father are detained after 9 die in school shooting in Serbia

A parent escorts her child following a shooting at a school in the capital Belgrade on Wednesday.
Oliver Bunic
/
AFP via Getty Images
A parent escorts her child following a shooting at a school in the capital Belgrade on Wednesday.

Updated May 3, 2023 at 11:21 AM ET

A teenage boy opened fire at a school in the Serbian capital of Belgrade on Wednesday, killing eight students and a school security guard, according to police. Another six children and a teacher were wounded and are receiving hospital care.

Serbia has declared three days of national mourning over the tragedy.

Authorities say they received a call about the shooting at Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary School around 8:40 a.m. local time. Police arrested the suspect, a seventh-grade student born in 2009, saying he used his father's gun to shoot at students and staff at the school.

In an update, police said the suspect, identified only by his initials, K.K., called them from the school minutes after the violence was reported. They also said he apparently planned his actions well in advance, and had written a list of children he wanted to kill.

Because the suspect is 13, he is too young to be held criminally responsible, the prosecutor's office in Belgrade said, according to public broadcaster RTS.

Citing his status as a minor, the news outlet added, prosecutors ordered the student's father to be detained on suspicion of crimes against general security.

Police officers escort a seventh grade student who is suspected of firing several shots at a school in Belgrade.
Oliver Bunic / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Police officers escort a seventh grade student who is suspected of firing several shots at a school in Belgrade.

The suspect called police after the shooting

The slain students include seven girls and one boy, Belgrade Police Chief Veselin Milić said, according to the N1 TV news channel.

Milić also displayed an image of a handwritten paper, listing students the suspect wanted to target, along with a sketch of the school's layout. The attack was likely planned at least a month in advance, he said.

The first call to police from the school came from its deputy principal, reporting the violence — but Milić said a second call came from the suspect himself, who told police he had just shot several people. By then, the suspect had gone to the schoolyard to wait for officers to arrive.

Video footage from the scene showed a commotion outside the primary school in central Belgrade as police removed the suspect, his head covered as officers led him to a car.

The student's father is also detained

Police detained the suspect's father after the school shooting, Interior Minister Bratislav Gašić said.

Officers found the suspect had two pistols with him, weapons that were registered to his father, Gašić said, according to the Danas news site.

When police visited the suspect's home, they found a safe that his father said was used to hold the firearms. But his son apparently knew the combination; the pair had also reportedly gone to the shooting range together.

Under Serbia's gun laws, citizens and permanent residents must meet several requirements in order to own a gun. In addition to registering their weapon, they must undergo training in handling firearms and obtain a certificate of their medical fitness. They must also store guns securely, and give valid reasons to justify owning them.

3 days of national mourning are declared

Serbia's government has declared three days of national mourning over the tragedy in Belgrade, Minister of Education Branko Ružić announced. The period would allow families to say farewell to their loved ones in peace, he said, and he also urged Serbians to use the time to think about how to prevent similar tragedies.

The designation requires broadcasters to alter their programming in a number of ways, including by withholding comedies and other light entertainment. Music broadcasters are urged to air music in a minor key, according to Serbia's media regulator, REM.

The Vladislav Ribnikar school is in the Vračar district, an area known for its museums, churches and other historic buildings, including Serbia's national library.

Mass shootings in Serbia are rare, but authorities have repeatedly warned the public about a number of weapons left over in the country after war in the region in the 1990s.

Serbia ranks in the top five countries worldwide in the number of guns owned by civilians per capita, according to research that the Small Arms Survey research group published in 2018. While nearly 1.2 million firearms are registered in Serbia, more than 1.5 million are not, the group said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.