Czech Republic marks a day of mourning for the victims of its worst mass killing

WTOP National Security Correspondent JJ Green speaks with Diane Roberts about several reported arrests of 'Islamists' in Germany and Austria allegedly planning Christmas Day terror attacks.
A young woman reacts by the floral tributes and candles left outside the headquarters of Charles University in downtown Prague, Czech Republic, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023. A lone gunman opened fire at a university on Thursday, killing over 12 people and injuring dozens. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)(AP/Denes Erdos)

PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech Republic came to a standstill at noon Saturday as people across the country observed a minute of silence for the victims of its worst mass killing that left 14 dead and questions about the shooter’s motive.

National flags on public buildings flew at half-staff and bells tolled at noon. President Petr Pavel and speakers of both houses of Parliament attended a Mass for the victims at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, the country’s biggest, which was packed.

“We’re all still in a shock in our own ways,” Prague Archbishop Jan Graubner said. “We need to clearly condemn what happened but we also need to look into the future.”

“Nobody should be left alone in these tough moments,” Charles University rector Milena Kralickova said in her remarks toward the end of the Mass. The shooting occurred inside the university’s Faculty of Arts on Thursday. Twenty-five other people were wounded before the gunman killed himself.

Police and prosecutors said they have evidence the 24-year-old shooter also killed his father earlier in the day and a man and a baby in Prague last week.

Similar religious services were held in other cities and towns, while Christmas markets in a number of places were closed or reduced their programs amid boosted security measures.

A sea of candles was shining at an impromptu memorial for the victims in front of the university headquarters.

“It’s been a horrible experience for us all but it still can’t be compared with what the victims had to experience at the time of the attack and what their dear ones have to experience now,” said Milos Vystrcil, speaker of the Senate who came to light a candle.

“I think that to help them at this point we express our support and that’s what we’re all doing now.”

The 14 fatalities are being slowly identified. The university confirmed two staff members were among them, including the head of the Institute of Music Sciences, Lenka Hlávková. First-year student Lucie Špindlerová also was killed, said the Lidove noviny daily, where she worked.

Among the other students were Aneta Richterová, according to her group of volunteer firefighters in the town of Helichovky; Klára Holcová, 20, a talented shot putter who won nine medals at national championships, the Czech athletics association said; and Magdalena Křístková, her hometown of Roztoky confirmed.

The shooter was Czech and a student at the Faculty of Arts. Investigators do not suspect a link to any extremist ideology or groups. Officials said they believed he acted alone but his motive is not yet clear.

Previously, the nation’s worst mass shooting was in 2015, when a gunman opened fire in the southeastern town of Uhersky Brod, killing eight before fatally shooting himself.

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