Serbian Shooting Claims 8 Lives, Day After School Massacre Killed 9
DUBONA, Serbia — The police in Serbia arrested a suspect early Friday after an overnight hunt for a gunman who killed eight people in a rural area near Belgrade, as the Balkan nation struggled to come to terms with its second mass shooting in two days.
In Serbia, which has one of the world’s highest rates of gun ownership but where gun violence is rare, the attack late Thursday came a day after a seventh grader armed with pistols and Molotov cocktails killed eight students and a security guard at his school in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital.
President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia on Friday said he planned to make sweeping changes to the country’s gun regulations that went beyond measures he outlined a day earlier, promising an “almost complete disarmament” of Serbia.
“We’ve been walking around like zombies the last 24 hours, looking for a reason something like this could happen,” Mr. Vucic said in a news conference, explaining his decision to take a stronger stance on gun control. An official three-day mourning period for the earlier shooting began on Friday, and Mr. Vucic announced an additional three days of mourning for the second shooting.
The suspect in the second shooting was arrested near the city of Kragujevac, about 40 miles south of where the attacks began, and which later continued through a string of suburbs to the south of Belgrade, according to Serbian officials.
He was wearing a T-shirt that said “Generation 88” when arrested, Mr. Vucic said, apparently referencing a white supremacist numerical code for “Heil Hitler.”
Hundreds of police officers had gone door to door searching for a 21-year-old male suspect, according to RTS, Serbia’s public broadcaster. They deployed helicopters and surrounded the area where they believed he was hiding before he was arrested, the report said.
The shootings took place around 11 p.m. local time on Thursday, Serbia’s Interior Ministry told CNN. It was not clear how long the shootings lasted or exactly where they had begun. The gunman, who was alone, fired shots from an automatic rifle from a moving vehicle, and then fled, according to RTS.
He opened fire near a schoolyard in the village of Dubona, killing a police officer, the police officer’s sister and one other person, according to several local residents. The gunman also fatally shot five people on the outskirts of the neighboring village of Malo Orasje, according to relatives of the victims. Mr. Vucic confirmed that the gunman was responsible for attacks in both areas.
Several residents of Malo Orasje said the gunman pulled up in his car on the outskirts of the village, near a small parking lot where young people were barbecuing and listening to music from a car radio. He fired at them, killing five people and injuring several others as they fled, according to Mihailo Mihailovic, who said that his cousin was among those killed. At least 14 others were wounded.
“They ran through these fields,” said Mr. Mihailovic, gesturing to the surrounding green stretches close to the parking lot. A few yards away, the rear window of a blue car had been shattered by the gunfire.
Dajan Mitrovic, who said his nephew was wounded in the groin, said he believed that the recent violence must have been “the product of the wars and bombings” that scarred the region for decades, including the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Serbs are known to have stockpiles of weapons left over from the wars and have historically high levels of gun ownership compared with other countries. But the country has not had high levels of gun violence, according to an October 2022 report by the Flemish Peace Institute, an independent research group.
Serbia ranks third in the world after the United States and Yemen in civilian firearm ownership, with an estimated 39 firearms per 100 people, according to a 2018 report by the Small Arms Survey, a group based in Geneva that researches trends in small arms. The United States, which ranks first, has about 120 guns per 100 people.
Mr. Vucic called Thursday’s shooting a “terrorist act” and said he would introduce stricter gun control measures, harsher fines for illegal arms and a stronger police presence in schools. Serbia would increase its police force by 1,200 officers over the next six months, with one officer in every school while classes are in session, he said.
The new gun control measures would include a full audit, including psychological and drug tests, of all legal gun owners. The Interior Ministry would give gun owners a one-month grace period to surrender illegal arms. Of the roughly 400,000 legal, registered guns in Serbia, excluding hunting weapons, Mr. Vucic said he expected just 10 percent, at most, to remain in the hands of citizens once his planned changes came into effect. He did not specify how he would do that.
Jail time for possessing unregistered firearms would increase by up to 15 years, depending on the circumstances, Mr. Vucic said.
Although the president in Serbia is officially a ceremonial figure, Mr. Vucic holds considerable influence because he has a lock on the country’s governing party and has reduced the power of several of Serbia’s democratic institutions.
It remains unclear whether the sweeping changes he called for on Friday will be quickly put in place. But the Serbian government has a record of acting on the president’s suggestions. On Thursday, less than 24 hours after the president suggested a series of measures to better regulate guns, the government announced it would enact some of them immediately.
On Friday morning, large blood stains were still visible on the road in Dubona, a small village where vineyards extend through hilly landscapes, where the gunman had shot two people. “It’s a shock,” said Javorka Pavlovic, a resident of the village, as she stood close to where one of the shootings took place. Ms. Pavlovic said she heard the gunshots late in the night but thought that they were fireworks.
Zlatko Vujic said his 25-year-old nephew was among those shot dead in Dubona by the gunman. Mr. Vujic said the suspect, whom he knew, had been working at a nearby fruit farm. The gunman “was just a kid,” Mr. Vujic said, his voice quavering.
Mr. Vujic said the gunman’s father had served in the Balkan wars that led to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Mr. Vucic also said that the gunman’s father is a deputy colonel in the Serbian Army.
The villages where the attacks took place are sparsely populated suburbs on the southern edge of Belgrade, near the slopes of Mount Kosmaj. After initially searching in darkness with thermal imaging cameras, the police began a physical search as dawn broke, RTS reported.
Police officers and army officials on Friday morning surrounded the house of the gunman’s family in the tiny village of Donja Dubona, near the village of Dubona.
Stefan Markovic, 29, a resident of Donja Dubona who said he had known the gunman since they were children, said the gunman’s father had kept numerous weapons in the house. He described a family wedding he attended a few years ago, in which the suspect’s father and other family members shot rifles into the air to celebrate.
Mr. Vucic’s pledge to tighten gun laws came a day after the Serbian government approved a series of measures, including setting a two-year moratorium on new licenses and enhanced surveillance of shooting ranges.
Those measures came into effect in response to Wednesday’s attack, when a seventh-grade student fatally shot eight other children and a security guard at his school in Belgrade, plunging the capital into grief.
“There isn’t a mother who slept in the last 24 hours in Serbia,” Mr. Vucic said. He promised increased vigilance by the authorities in the coming two weeks.
The Interior Ministry urged gun owners to ensure their weapons were locked away, unloaded and separated from ammunition. The ministry said it would go through the registry of gun owners to check that arms were properly stored and seize weapons or take other actions against owners if they were not.
From 2015 through 2019, 125 people were killed in firearm-related homicides in Serbia, a country of about seven million people, according to the report.
Serbia has enacted stringent regulations on firearms since guns became widely available during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Gun owners must have no history of imprisonment and have no criminal record in the past four years, be trained in handling firearms, undergo routine medical examinations, and have a safe storage space.
Serbia’s last mass shooting occurred in 2016, when a man killed five people at a cafe in the country’s north. In 2015, a man killed four people after his son’s wedding, including his wife, his new daughter-in-law and her parents.
Constant Méheut reported from Dubona. Victoria Kim, Matej Leskovsek and John Yoon reported from Seoul. Joe Orovic contributed reporting from Zadar, Croatia, and Jenny Gross from London.
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