Czechs mourn Prague university shooting victims [NSTTV]

PRAGUE: Church bells rang, flags flew at half mast and masses were held across the Czech Republic on Saturday, a day of national mourning for the victims of a deadly shooting at Prague's Charles University.

A heavily armed 24-year-old student killed 14 people and then himself at the Faculty of Arts on Thursday.

The lone gunman also wounded 24 others, including three foreigners.

The gunfire sparked frantic scenes of students running from the attacker, with some escaping onto the roof and then jumping onto a balcony below, while others clung to top-floor windows from ledges.

Daily life halted for a minute of silence for the victims in the EU and NATO member country at noon (1100 GMT) on Saturday.

"We are all trying to build heaven on earth, but the reality of life shows us that evil exists," said Prague Archbishop Jan Graubner, celebrating a mass for the victims at the Gothic St Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle.

Students attending the mass said top politicians were present, including President Petr Pavel, and that many in the cathedral were in tears.

"The life of each person in its uniqueness enriches and becomes a part of the lives of others, and its loss is therefore irreplaceable," Charles University rector Milena Kralickova said at the mass, her voice breaking.

A choir singing at the mass was led by David Eben, a musician and musicology teacher at the Faculty of Arts.

His department lost its director, Lenka Hlavkova, a mother of two, in the carnage.

Since the shooting, people have lit thousands of candles for the victims at makeshift memorials set up in Prague and other cities.

During the mass on Saturday, Faculty of Arts students brought eighteen roses to the altar -- 14 for the university victims, one for the gunman and three for other people he had killed.

Police said that the gunman appeared to have killed a randomly chosen young man and his 2-month-old daughter in a Prague forest on Dec 15.

"A ballistic analysis proved the gun used in the... forest was IDENTICAL with a gun found at the university gunman's home," police said on X.

On Thursday, he killed his father in a village west of Prague where the family lived, and then left for the capital, leaving a suicide note, police said.

Police launched a manhunt for him, but appeared to have missed him at the university, searching a Faculty of Arts building where he was expected to attend a lecture, while the gunman walked into the faculty's main building nearby.

Police learned about the shooting at the university at around 1400 GMT and sent a rapid response unit to the scene. Twenty minutes later, the gunman was dead.

The gunman appeared to have been inspired by a similar shooting in Russia, police said, citing his social media account.

This week's shooting in Prague's UNESCO-listed historic centre was the deadliest since the Czech Republic emerged as an independent state in 1993.

Sympathy poured in from across the world with Pope Francis, US President Joe Biden, Britain's King Charles and many others sending their condolences.

At a makeshift memorial in Prague, technical university student Antonin Volavka lit a candle to pay tribute to the dead.

"This could have happened to anyone. Really, it could have been me," he told AFP.

The Czech Republic is the world's 12th safest country, according to the 2023 Global Peace Index, and mass gun violence is rare.

But in 2015, a man shot dead seven men and a woman before killing himself in a restaurant in the southeast, while another gunman killed seven people in an eastern hospital and then himself in 2019. — AFP

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