Subscribe for 17¢ / day

Associated Press

ERFURT, Germany (AP) - The teenage gun enthusiast who killed 16 people and himself at his former school enjoyed violent computer games and kept his parents in the dark about his humiliating expulsion from school, police said Sunday.

Adding new details to the troubling profile of Robert Steinhaeuser, the 19-year-old behind one of the deadliest school shootings ever, investigators said that hours before his deadly rampage, he told his parents he was going to take a math exam. As he left the house, his mother wished him good luck.

"The parents thought he was going to school every day and was successfully moving toward his high school diploma," Police Chief Rainer Grube said.

Officials said Steinhaeuser, an expert marksman, walked into the building just before 11 a.m., used a bathroom to change into all-black clothing and a ski mask, then fatally shot 13 teachers - more than a third of the faculty - two teenage students and a policeman.

Police said he fired about 40 rounds before turning his 9 mm Glock pistol on himself inside the Johann Gutenberg Gymnasium.

Grube said authorities believe that the killer had a Web site and were investigating a home page bearing his name and picture. But someone changed the page 12 hours after his death, Grube said, raising the possibility the current version is bogus.

In a search of Steinhaeuser's home, police found comics filled with scenes of violence as well as a number of computer games that featured "intensive weapons usage," Grube said. He said Steinhaeuser's mother told police she had not noticed any unusual behavior in her son, described by officials and acquaintances as a loner with few, if any, close friends.

A quirk of Germany's education system also may have contributed to the tragedy. Thuringia, where Erfurt is the state capital, is alone in denying even an intermediate diploma to students who go beyond 10th grade, but then fail twice to pass final exams.

Officials said Steinhaeuser had failed last year, and his expulsion a few weeks ago for forging a doctor's note deprived him of the second - and last - chance for a full diploma, necessary to attend a university or get a decent job.

Providing fresh evidence that Steinhaeuser was bent on killing teachers, police chief Grube said the witnesses recalled the gunman bursting into some classrooms but leaving if he saw no teachers. The two teenage victims, a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy, were killed when Steinhaeuser fired through a closed door, Grube said.

Crowds continued to gather at the school entrance Sunday. Flowers overflowed from the steps onto the sidewalk, and candles sputtered in the rain. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer became the latest national figure to pay his respects, placing a bouquet and consoling the tearful school principal as she told him about the horrific events.

Officials canceled classes for at least a week and said students would receive counseling at Erfurt's city hall. The school remained sealed Sunday as police continued to secure clues.

Erfurt Mayor Manfred Ruge said after meeting the school's parents, teachers and students Sunday that they had resolved to clean up and reopen the building as soon as possible to "also seize the chance to make a new beginning."

One 12th-grader, Michaela Seidel, choked back tears as she declared that the students would be scarred for a long time.

"It will take years to get over this," she told a news conference. "At this time, none of us understands anything."

Everyone opposed putting a memorial outside the school, she said.

"We don't want a huge plaque in front of it that reminds us of what happened every time we pass by," said Seidel, who had finished a final exam in math and left the building 10 minutes before the shooting began.

As debate grew over how to protect schools against violence and curb youths' legal access to firearms, some politicians called for tighter controls over Germany's estimated 20,000 rifle clubs. Steinhaeuser was a member of an Erfurt shooting club and last October got a permit to buy weapons, police said Sunday.

Meanwhile, a history teacher gave a chilling account of how he cut short the killing spree when he confronted the startled gunman in the hallway, pushed him into a room and locked the door.

Rainer Heise, now hailed by German media as the "hero of Erfurt," said he recalled Steinhaeuser pointing his fingers gun-style at another teacher two years ago when he was caught smoking on a field trip.

In an interview at his Erfurt home, the 60-year-old teacher said he doesn't know why he survived while others were killed.

"Perhaps he just liked me. Perhaps he didn't think I was bad," Heise said.

Grube said investigators are interviewing Heise and that there is "evidence to support his story." He said police found the killer's body in a storage room that was locked with the key on the outside of the door.

"For me he's one of the heroes, probably the biggest one of all those who were out there," said Seidel, the Gutenberg senior.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.