Russian officials said an attack at a technical college on the Crimea peninsula Wednesday left at least 19 people dead, including a gunman investigators believe set off an explosive device before opening fire on his classmates.
The explosion ripped through the Kerch Polytechnic College on the far eastern part of the peninsula around midday. Authorities initially reported it as a gas explosion that killed 10 and injured dozens more. Minutes later, the death toll rose as witnesses at the college reported a shooter on campus.
At least 50 people were wounded, according to Russian investigators. The attacker, identified as student Vladislav Roslyakov, 18, who was in his fourth year at the college, then turned the gun on himself, Crimea leader Sergei Aksyonov told the television channel Russia 24.
Investigators said the victims who were killed died of gunshot wounds, not the explosion as initially thought, Russian news agencies reported.
Security camera images published on Russian news sites showed a man in a white T-shirt wielding an automatic weapon as he descended stairs at the college.
Students on campus at the time of the attack described scenes of panic shortly after the explosion went off.
“Just glass everywhere, and then someone started shooting,” a student at the college, Margarita, told Russian radio station Business FM. “I ran and saw the boys just falling, and the blood flying everywhere. My friend, Dasha, I have not seen her since. There are a lot of my friends there. I'm so scared.”
Semyon Gavrilov, also a student at the institute, said he had been sleeping in his lecture after being up all night the previous evening. The explosion woke him, possibly saving his life, he said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
“I woke up from the explosion and looked out of the lecture hall, and there goes a guy with a gun and he was shooting everyone,” the paper quoted him as saying. “I hoped he would not hear me. After 10 minutes, the police arrived with machine guns. What happened to the shooter then, I do not know.”
Gavrilov said he left the building when Russian security forces began to evacuate students and teachers. The bodies of the dead were lying on the floor. The walls were charred.
Crimea was officially part of Ukraine until March 2014, when Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula in a move the West, including the United States, does not recognize. The annexation resulted in sanctions on members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle as well as many Russian state-owned companies.
Since then, tensions between Ukraine and Russia have intensified. An ongoing military conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kiev’s government troops and Russian-backed separatist fighters continues to produce daily casualties.
Kerch, which is about 1,000 miles from Moscow, is the starting point of a $3.7-billion bridge completed by Moscow this year to link the peninsula to the Russian mainland.
School shootings are rare in Russia, where gun laws are significantly stricter than in the U.S. A student gunman opened fire on a Moscow high school in February 2014, killing a teacher and a police officer.
The director of the Kerch college where Wednesday’s attack happened told Russian media that it immediately brought up memories of the Beslan school attack in 2004, when more than 330 people, mostly children, were killed in one of Russia’s worst terrorist attacks.