She immediately threw herself onto the floor. It was an automatic reaction, as if she had rehearsed the move a thousand times. But she hadn't. Indeed, the first hint Sandra* had that something wasn't quite right was when Tim K. stood in the door of her classroom. She hadn't thought much of the bangs she had just heard. "I thought somebody had popped something," she said -- paper bags or something like that.
How, after all, was a 14-year-old to know how shots from a Beretta sound?
But when 17-year-old Tim K. marched into classroom 9C, it took just a fraction of a second before Sandra was on the floor. She crawled into a corner, tipped over a table and barricaded herself behind it. A friend crawled over to her. "You're bleeding, you're bleeding," she said. But Sandra couldn't feel a thing. Even now she can't say exactly what the scratch on her nose is from.
On Wednesday evening, Sandra is seeking comfort in the St. Borromäus church, where a service is being held just hours after the shooting spree. Thousands have shown up, the room is filled to overflowing, as people from the small town of Winnenden and further afield come together. Sandra is surrounded by friends -- her mother is nearby, not wanting to let her daughter out of her sight. She looks even more shaken than Sandra herself.
Lots of Crying
A pupil at Albertville secondary school in Winnenden, a small town in southwestern Germany not far from Stuttgart, Sandra saw things on Wednesday that she had only seen on television, if at all: a teacher with blood pouring out of her arm, other pupils in her class -- most of them girls -- who had been shot. Some of them, said Sandra, were twitching. And there was lots of blood, lots of screaming, lots of crying.
The students remained locked in the room for about 20 minutes after Tim K. had fled. Sandra's teacher had secured the door out of fear that he might return. "It felt like hours," says Sandra. Her voice is matter-of-fact, as if she is telling someone else's story, as if she is on auto-pilot. She says she cried in the classroom, "but then I tried to calm some of the others." She was also concerned about her mother. She explains how she tried to call her mother from her mobile phone, but then quickly hung up. She didn't want to startle her mom.
Was she afraid? Sandra thinks for a bit. "I was so afraid that I actually wasn't anymore," she says. She also admits that she has yet to really comprehend what she lived through. For the moment, Sandra just has a collection of images in her head -- one above all others: Tim K. standing in the door of her classroom, weapon in hand. "He had an expression on his face that I can't begin to describe," she says. "So sure of himself. As if he thought he was doing exactly the right thing."
The 17-year-old was remarkably calm as he walked through the halls of the school building, say witnesses. He shot most of his victims in the head. In total, he killed 15 people -- the last two at a car dealership in the town of Wendlingen, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the school -- before shooting himself. At the school he killed nine pupils, seven of them girls, and three female teachers. As he fled to the center of Winnenden, he shot a passer-by before hijacking a car and forcing the driver to take him to Wendlingen.
'The One Who Looks so Nice'
Linda, 17, had been a classmate of Tim's from fifth to 10th grade. She had thought others might have been capable of such a deed, "but not him." When asked which of the boys on a class photo was Tim, she said "the one who looks so nice."
In two group photos from the Albertville secondary school in Winnenden, the teenager wearing glasses is standing in the first row, hands jammed deep into his pockets. He was a friendly boy, not an outsider, and not the class clown. After the events of Wednesday, everybody describes him the same way: inconspicuous, adaptable, shy, introverted. But he was not, they say, full of inhibitions, and he wasn't a loner.
Whenever Tim, who had completed a vocational training course, met his former classmates on the train to Waiblingen in the morning, he tended to greet them shyly. Mostly he just looked in the other direction. But he wasn't viewed as impolite or strange.
"He was a quiet, reserved guy, but not in an objectionable way," said Linda. He never spoke in class, but he also never bothered anyone. "What must have been going on inside him?" Linda's mother wondered.
Martin, a former school companion, was also looking for answers. "Tim was never aggressive or conspicuous. He was simply normal -- just like everyone else. I felt like I had been struck by lightning when I heard that he did it. For years I saw him every day, every day! Who would have thought that he had a ticking time bomb inside him?"
In Tim's village, Weiler am Stein, a community of 3,000 residents just 20 kilometers from Stuttgart, it was known that Tim's dad belonged to the local gun club. It was also known that he had 16 weapons legally stored in a safe in his house. He had also built a firing range in the cellar, where he regularly trained. Tim himself reportedly had an arsenal of airguns in his bedroom.
During a police search of Tim's family home, officials took away a number of computers. According to the police spokesman Nikolaus Brenner, they contained violent video games. "It is unclear whether that signals a motive," he said.
"As far as I know, it is true about the weapons," Stefan, another former classmate, said. "But Tim didn't play more computer games or watch more television than me or any other of my friends."
Officials are still searching -- in vain -- for any farewell letter the young man might have left behind. He had no reason to fear for his future, said one police spokesman. "According to our investigations thus far he was apparently a totally normal teenager."
In one area Tim stood out from the rest: Table tennis. He was ambitious and successful. "He was really very good at table tennis," one former school friend said. "It was clear that he enjoyed it."
Tim's companions say he didn't have a girlfriend and were astonished to discover that so many girls and women were among the victims. "Is that a coincidence?" asks Alexander, who knew Tim and two of his victims, from school. According to investigators, it could "have something to do with the spacing situation" in the school.
Shortly after the shootings, specially-trained police forces stormed the house belonging to Tim's family, a white post-war building with a rooftop balcony. Tim's Porsche-driving parents were thought of as well-off. His father had earned his wealth after studying mathematics. Linda recalls that Tim always had more pocket money than his classmates on class trips -- on a graduation trip to Berlin last October, for example. "But he didn't boast or show off his parents' money," Linda says. On the contrary, several classmates would come to Tim to borrow money. "Tim gave gladly."
Although his group of friends was not large, he occasionally threw parties at his parent's house on Kleist Street, recalls Sina, one of his former classmates. Nonetheless, Tim's father, the executive of a packaging company, had a reputation for sternness. Martin, one of Tim's friends from school, talks of how Tim and his father repeatedly "clashed."
Jörg kept 15 guns in a locked cabinet. A Beretta was stored in a drawer in his bedroom. With that one weapon, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Tim went on his rampage.
In the evening, the authorities remove dead bodies from the school, while at the memorial ceremony, many students break down in tears. A sobbing school girl clings to her friends in front of the church. Paramedics lead another girl to a treatment center they had set up there.
Many volunteers at the center believe the real work will begin over the next few days. Alexander Baur, a first responder, is not surprised by Sandra's calm. "You see the strangest reactions," he says. Often traumatic experiences show their real terror only at night. Psychological help is being made available to anyone who requests it.
Sandra says psychological help was offered to her at school, but she doesn't yet feel she needs it. Her mother looks distressed. "We'll go to the psychologist tomorrow," she says. A neighbor has already offered her services. The small town has come together in the crisis. But although Baur, the paramedic, believes it would be "cathartic" for people to "cry and confide in someone," he's simply expressing hope, nothing more than that.