Prague woke up Friday to shock and disbelief after a gunman killed 14 people and injured 25 more at Charles University, the deadliest peacetime attack in the history of the Czech Republic.
The brutal incident on Thursday was also the first-ever school or college shooting in the Czech Republic, leaving the nation and its top officials stunned.
Prague, a festive winter wonderland just 24 hour ago, felt somber and empty on Friday morning. A makeshift memorial of candles and flowers was set up at the university’s historical headquarters overnight, with people coming to pay their respects from early in the morning, despite heavy snow and rain.
Addressing the nation on Thursday, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala called the shooting “a senseless attack” and said “this Christmas will be unimaginably sad.”
“Like many of you, I am feeling a deep sorrow and disgust over this incomprehensible and brutal violence,” Fiala said. Czech President Petr Pavel said he felt “deep sadness and also helpless anger over the loss of so many young lives.”
In a press conference Friday, Prague police chief Petr Matějček also confirmed the gunman – a 24-year-old man who was a student at the university – died by suicide. Police have not yet named him.
“I went to the site of the attack and I was horrified and shaken. And I have been with the police for 40 years,” Matějček told journalists.
“When I saw the amount of ammunition, the weapons that he brought, what he was prepared for, I can only thank my officers for their quick action — they prevented many more deaths.”
Authorities are still investigating a motive in the rampage, which took place at the Faculty of Arts building of Charles University. Known in Czech as the Faculty of Philosophy, the school is one of the original colleges set up when the university was founded in 1348. Subjects including history, philosophy, art theory and languages are taught there.
Police said that as of Friday morning 11 of the 14 victims had been identified.
The Department of Musicology at the school announced that its director Lenka Hlávková was among the victims of the shooting. Hlávková was a renowned expert in the musical culture of medieval central Europe and the department said in a statement her death was “extremely cruel” news.
The identities of other victims have not been publicly announced.
According to the foreign ministry, all of the deceased identified so far were Czech nationals.
How the shooting unfolded
The police chief said authorities had information about the shooter before the university killings, saying police received a tip he was traveling to Prague from his hometown village of Hostouň with the intention to take his own life.
Some time later, the police received information that a man, believed to be the gunman’s father, was found dead in Hostouň.
Vondrášek said the police were aware the shooter had a lecture at 2 p.m. local time and evacuated the building where the lecture was meant to take place. But authorities then received a call about a shooting in a different building, according to the police chief.
The area around the building is popular with tourists and close to major attractions. It is just across the Vltava River from Prague Castle and five minute walk from the Old Town Square where Prague’s famous Christmas Markets were taking place. The historical Jewish Quarter is within a few hundred meters of the building.
Czech authorities are also working on a theory the gunman is connected to a double homicide in Klanovice, a Prague suburb, last week, where a man and a baby were found murdered in a forest.
The shooter had a gun permit and owned several weapons, Vondrášek said.
The Czech Republic has relatively liberal gun laws compared to the rest of the European Union, but gun attacks are rare. To obtain a gun legally, a person needs an official firearm license, which requires a medical examination, a weapon proficiency exam and no previous criminal record.
According to official police statistics, more than 300,000 people have a legal permit to own a gun. As of 2022, almost 1 million legally owned weapons were officially registered in the Czech Republic.
This is a developing story and will be updated.