Family of German killer apologises
BERLIN, Germany -- The parents and older brother of Robert Steinhaeuser have expressed deep sorrow in an open letter over his brutal shooting dead of 16 people at the German school which expelled him.
In a signed letter to local newspapers, the Steinhaeusers said they had never seen in him the hate that drove him to kill.
"Since this terrible day, we are asking ourselves more and more where Robert's hate and despair came from and why we did not see it," said the letter to the Thuringer Allgemeine daily in the eastern city of Erfurt and the Thuringische Landeszeitung newspaper.
"Before this brutal act of madness we were a very ordinary family and knew a different Robert," the family said.
Steinhaeuser, 19, a failed student, went to his former school in the eastern German city of Erfurt last week and shot dead 13 teachers, two students and a police officer as well as himself.
"The sorrow, despair and helplessness in our family are boundless," the Steinhaeusers wrote in their first public statement.
"We will forever be sorry that our son and brother has brought such horrifying suffering to the victims and their relatives, the people of Erfurt and Thuringia, and all over Germany."
German President Johannes Rau is due to lead a memorial service in Erfurt on Friday at exactly the same time in the morning when Steinhaeuser began his killing spree a week earlier.
Officials said Steinhaeuser had planned the massacre up to a year before he shot his victims, mostly with point-blank shots to the head. He had applied for a gun licence a month after failing his school leaving-test last May.
Police have said the former pupil had stashed 500 rounds of ammunition in the school's washroom and could have killed many more but for a courageous teacher who faced him down, bundled him into a room and locked the door.
A loner who trained as a marksman at two gun clubs, the troubled youth never got the chance to retake his leaving exam because he was expelled from the school in Erfurt, 320 km (200 miles) south of Berlin, in October for forging an absentee note and not attending class.
The killer hid his explusion from his family.
"So far we have still not found the time to mourn our son and brother; we are thinking only of the victims and our thoughts are with their families," the Steinhaeusers said.
Officials are considering the impact violent TV programmes and video games could have had on Steinhaeuser.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was due to meet top broadcasting officials on Thursday evening to discuss violence on TV. He will meet the country's 16 state premiers on May 6 to discuss a further clampdown on gun owners.
Leaders from Germany's main political parties said the legal age to obtain a gun licence should be raised from 18 to 21. Many also want a ban on licensed owners of firearms being allowed to keep guns in their homes.
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