KERCH: Russian authorities on Thursday investigated what prompted a teenage gunman to open fire on fellow students at a Crimean technical college in a massacre that left at least 20 dead and others maimed by horrific injuries.
Wednesday’s killings at a Kerch city college packed with teenagers shocked a country that has previously seen attacks by Islamist militants and separatists, including a metro bombing last year, but where school mass shootings are rare.
Weeping families and friends laid flowers and held vigils on Thursday as they struggled to understand why 18-year-old Vladislav Roslyakov gunned down students before killing himself in what local press dubbed “Russia’s Columbine”, a reference to a 1999 US high school massacre.
Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov said authorities are investigating what prompted Roslyakov — whom he earlier called a “scumbag” — to open fire and set off a home-made explosive that officials said blasted ball bearings into many victims, some who later had limbs amputated.
“On paper, he had an ideal character. We simply do not understand,” Aksyonov told journalists in Kerch in the Moscow-annexed peninsula.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday said it was necessary to establish “the precise details of this tragic mass murder.”
In the absence of an official version, speculation grew on social media on Roslyakov’s possible motives for the attack as details of his family life began to emerge in local media.
According to the Russian daily Kommersant, the teenager “grew up in a rather poor family” with a disabled father. The paper said Roslyakov’s mother is a Jehovah’s Witness — a Christian organisation considered “extremist” and banned in Russia.
Russian television reported she works as an orderly at one of the hospitals that treated victims.
Several media outlets made a comparison with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in the US, which left 13 people dead.
They described photographs circulating on the internet showing Roslyakov wearing a similar T-shirt to Eric Harris, one of the Columbine killers.
The gunman “moved from room to room and, like an experienced special forces fighter, first threw a home-made grenade before going to shoot people,” Kommersant wrote.
It called the shooting an “unprecedented crime in Russia”, which has strict gun controls.
Russia’s Health Ministry put the latest death toll at 20 on Thursday. A few hours earlier, city authorities published a list of 19 of the victims — nine of them under the age of 18.
Crimean leader Aksyonov said late on Wednesday that 12 people were in an extremely serious condition. Local media reported at least one of the girls had a leg amputated after the attack. Many of those hospitalised were caught in the explosion, officials said.
Stunned locals brought flowers, candles and toys to the scene on Thursday morning as National Guard, the army and police cordoned off the college site.
“We all lost people close to us, the children of Kerch. We need to know the truth now,” Sergei Ivanov, who lives in Kerch, told AFP.
Late on Wednesday, Aksyonov said he had seen the body of the killer and that Roslyakov had acted alone.
He also confirmed earlier reports that the teenager had acquired a gun licence legally and promised a transparent investigation with “no secrets.”
According to the RIA Novosti agency, security forces raided Roslyakov’s family home following the killings.
Witnesses told AFP on Wednesday they heard shooting and a “loud explosion” as well as people wounded by “shrapnel and bullets.”
Roslyakov’s body was discovered in the college library, according to authorities.
“No one can guarantee that this will not happen again,” the pro-Kremlin paper Izvestia said.
Kremlin spokesman Peskov on Thursday said “measures will have to be taken to minimise or totally eliminate such risks in the future.”
Attacks by disaffected teenagers at schools and colleges have hit the headlines recently in Russia.
In January, a school student attacked a teacher and fellow students with an axe in Siberia and tried to set fire to the school building.
In April, another student stabbed a teacher and a fellow student in the Urals Mountains and then set fire to a classroom. — AFP