Jehovah’s Witnesses mourn victims of Hamburg shooting
BERLIN (AP) — Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany held a memorial service Saturday for the six people killed during a mass shooting at a religious service in Hamburg this month.
A 35-year-old German man who opened fire during the March 9 service killed himself as police arrived at a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall where the service was taking place. The attack wounded nine people, including a pregnant woman who lost her unborn child.
“We are speechless in the face of the violence and brutality. There’s no word for this,” Dirk Ciupek, a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, said in his sermon. “This was an attack not just on a few of us, but an attack on all of us.”
Ciupek expressed gratitude to the police officers who he said prevented more deaths and to the medical personnel who tended to the wounded with dedication and empathy.
“Do not let evil defeat you,” he said, addressing the family members of those who died. He spoke about each victim individually, including the unborn baby.
“We miss them, their love, their smiles, everything,” Ciupek said.
All of the victims were German citizens apart from two wounded women, one with Ugandan citizenship and one with Ukrainian.
The gunman, identified by authorities only as Philipp F. due to German privacy laws, was a former member who left the Jehovah’s Witnesses two years ago. Investigators have said his departure was “apparently not on good terms.”
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German prosecutors said they were investigating whether there was a religious motive for the crime, but that there were no indications he was involved in any network or had far-right views.
The Hamburg congregation that was holding the service has about 60 members and is one of 47 in the port city, which is home to almost 4,000 denomination members, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
About 3,300 people attended Saturday’s memorial service, which took place in a gymnasium in Hamburg, German news agency dpa said. The event also was livestreamed for Jehovah’s Witnesses who couldn’t be there in person.
Mark Sanderson, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, traveled to Hamburg from the United States and addressed the mourners.
“Our hope, our faith, our love, can survive tragedy, they can overcome hatred and violence,” he said. “If we show our love to those around us, we reflect our faith to God.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an international church founded in the United States in the 19th century and headquartered in Warwick, New York. The church claims a worldwide membership of about 8.7 million, with about 170,000 in Germany.
Members are known for their evangelistic efforts that include knocking on doors and distributing literature in public squares. The denomination’s practices include a refusal to bear arms, receive blood transfusions, salute a national flag or participate in secular government.