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German horror 'planned for a year'

Politicians have been among those paying their respects  

ERFURT, Germany -- An expelled student who killed 16 others and himself at his former high school in Germany may have planned the massacre up to a year beforehand.

Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, shot dead 13 teachers, two pupils and a police officer at Erfurt's Johann Gutenberg high school before killing himself on Friday, six months after the school expelled him.

A loner who trained to become a marksman at two gun clubs, the troubled youth never got the chance to retake a school-leaving test he failed 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, Reuters news agency reports.

He transferred to another school but stopped attending by November.

Several classmates said they had seen Steinhaeuser point his index finger at teachers and pretend to pull an imaginary trigger while on field trips in recent years.

"We assume he planned this for a long time -- at least for several months," Manfred Scherer, a Thuringia state interior ministry official, told a news conference. "Because it must have taken a long time to collect all the ammunition."

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Authorities said Steinhaeuser applied for a gun licence a month after failing his school-leaving test last May, and that he targeted teachers in his rampage, mostly with point-blank shots to the head.

Police have said that Steinhaeuser fired about 40 rounds from a 9 mm pistol during his shooting spree. He had taken about 540 rounds with him into the building, while police later found a further 500 rounds stashed at his home.

Gun control has become the top political issue as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's conservative challenger offered to set aside election-year antagonisms and draft tighter laws that would include raising the age for legally acquiring firearms from 18 to 21.

Even Germany's strong gun lobby said on Tuesday it would consider backing such legislation, The Associated Press reported.

Schroeder called for a meeting of the country's 16 state premiers on May 6 in Berlin to discuss a further clampdown on gun owners in response to the shooting.

Many leaders have questioned whether owners of firearms should be allowed to keep their weapons in their homes.

Bavarian governor Edmund Stoiber, the conservative hoping to unseat Schroeder in September 22 parliamentary elections, said on ZDF German television Tuesday the political parties needed to band together to fight violence and swiftly pass stricter weapons legislation before parliament's summer break.

"I propose to the Chancellor that... before this legislature is recessed, we make some necessary changes to the weapons law, such as raising the age of ownership for large-caliber weapons from 18 to 21," Stoiber said.

School records show Steinhaeuser was not a good student and had a history of missing classes.

German President Johannes Rau is to attend a memorial service Friday in Erfurt for the victims. Burials of the 16 victims are to be held in private.

Local media identified the victims as students Susann Hartung, 14, and Ronny Moeckel, 15, policeman Andreas Gorski, 39.

The teachers were: Birgit Dettke, 39; Carla Pott, 27; Yvonne Fulsche-Baer, 38; Anneliese Schwertner, 39; Gabriele Klement, 43; Hans Lippe, 44; Monika Burghard, 49; Rosemarie Hajna, 54; Helmut Schwarzer, 54; Heidrun Baumbach, 56; Hans-Joachim Schwertfeger, 44; Heidemarie Sicker, 59; and Peter Wolf, 60.


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