Czechs mourn victims of university shooting as police patrol public areas

By Jan Lopatka

PRAGUE (Reuters) -Czechs mourned the victims of the country’s worst mass shooting as police tightened security around schools and other public buildings across the country on Friday after a student gunman killed 14 people at a university building on Thursday.

At the Charles University headquarters in Prague a growing crowd that included Prime Minister Petr Fiala and U.S. Ambassador Bijan Sabet paid tribute to the victims. Some knelt to light candles and lay flowers while others stood crying and hugging each other.

“We are here to show our support as fellow students,” said Czech student Daniel Broz.

“I was on the other side of the river and hearing gunshots, pops and not knowing what is going on and then a flurry of police cars passing by was absolutely surreal especially as a Czech who has never witnessed and event similar to this before.”

Charles University cancelled all lectures and events on Friday a day after the shooting in the central European country of 10.9 million where over 300,000 people hold guns but mass shootings are rare.

The Health Ministry said 27 people were admitted or treated at six Prague hospitals, many with gunshot wounds. Out of those, 12 remained in serious condition and at least one in critical condition.

Authorities also began releasing more details about the attack and events that preceded the shooting. They said the 24-year-old student of the arts faculty where he carried out the attack likely shot himself after police cornered him on a balcony and the suspect dropped his long-barrel gun with sights. He carried multiple weapons with him, police said.

“He was left with a shotgun which does not have long range and when we were nearing the balcony he decided to commit suicide,” Petr Matejcek, director of the Prague regional police, told a press conference, broadcast live on public television.

The police showed body-camera video footage showing special police units storming the university building, searching corridors and rooms and administering first aid to victims. The video also showed police on the roof carrying what appeared to be a body, and later, people leaving the building with hands raised above their heads.

Authorities said the suspect, whom they asked not to be named, had killed his father at home outside Prague before travelling to the capital.

Police had information from a friend of the shooter that he intended to kill himself and were searching for him at another university building where he was due to attend a lecture.

But he instead went to the main Faculty of Arts building, on a busy square across the river from the Prague Castle and just hundreds of metres from the Old Town Square, one of Europe’s major tourist attractions.

Police said they were looking into the gunman’s possible connection with a social media account which cited inspiration by a mass shooting in Russia but said on Friday it was not clear if the connection was genuine.

Police ramped up security measures at events and buildings across the country on Friday.

“Starting today we have adopted countrywide preventative measures in relation to soft targets and schools,” police said on social network X, previously known as Twitter.

“We do not have information about any concrete threat… this is a signal we are here and prepared.”

Police also suspect the gunman of shooting to death a young father and his two-month old daughter in the woods near a village outside of Prague last week in a random attack.

“Leads point us to this and we are waiting for the results of the ballistics tests, the Prague police chief Matejcek said.

Police said on Thursday the man had a gun licence and no criminal record.

The government declared Saturday a national day of mourning.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Writing by Michael KahnEditing by Tomasz Janowski)