MOSCOW — Was it the influence of video games? A breakdown in respect for authority? Cuts in mental health services?
In a phenomenon all too familiar to Americans, Russians searched for answers Monday after a 15-year-old student at a Moscow high school fatally shot a teacher and a police officer and held a class of 29 captive until he was persuaded by his father to release those in the room, officials said. Police then arrested him.
The student reportedly was armed with a shotgun and possibly another weapon. The suspect was identified, but The Times’ policy is to not name juveniles accused of crimes unless they are charged as adults.
“According to our information, his grades were excellent and most likely it was some kind of an emotional breakdown,” said Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia’s Investigative Committee.
In a society where gun ownership is far less common than in the United States, the shooting prompted soul-searching over whether larger societal problems were to blame. Violent crime is a serious problem in Russia, but schools have generally remained havens.
“Unfortunately, the notion that a teacher is an indisputably respected authority for all school students is a thing of the past,” said Sergei Kazarnovsky, the director of another Moscow school. “Thank God we don’t have so many guns and weapons in our homes in Russia like in the United States.”
Officials said the student entered the school early in the afternoon armed with a shotgun and ordered a school guard to let him in. He then proceeded to the room where his geography class was held, officials said.
Upon entering the classroom, the student shot teacher Andrei Kirillov, 29, officials said. When he saw that Kirillov was still breathing, the teen came up closer and shot the teacher again, killing him, a student told his mother, who repeated the account to the online news site Gazeta.
The shooter then pointed a gun at classmates and said, “I don’t want to kill any of you,” she said her son told her. “I am afraid of death so much I wanted to see what it looks like.”
Some reports said the shooter was armed with two guns, both owned by his father: a small-caliber rifle and a hunting shotgun.
When two police officers arrived and opened the classroom door, the shooter fired on them, killing Warrant Officer Sergei Bushuyev and seriously injuring Senior Sgt. Vladimir Krokhin, officials said. In all, 11 shots were fired, Markin said.
Meanwhile, classes were halted and students were evacuated.
By that time, police were in touch with the shooter’s father and asked him to talk to his son, officials said.
At first the two talked on the phone, but then the father came to the school. Standing outside the classroom door, he spoke to his son for about 15 minutes before the boy agreed to let him in, Moscow Police Chief Anatoly Yakunin said.
“We then equipped his father with a bulletproof jacket and special means, and he entered the classroom,” Yakunin said in televised remarks. He did not define what he meant by “special means.”
After speaking to his father face to face for about half an hour, the shooter began to let the captives go, Yakunin said. When all were freed and the teen was alone with his father, police special forces stormed the classroom and arrested the boy, Yakunin said.
Investigators are working with the student, who will undergo a psychological examination, Markin said.
The teen had not been known to have conflicts with the teacher or with his classmates, Education Minister Dmitry Livanov told the daily newspaper Kommersant.
Russian presidential envoy for children’s rights Pavel Astakhov told the Russia-24 television news channel that the country had made a mistake in recent years by eliminating the jobs of most school psychologists. Once common, psychologists are on staff in only in 20% of Russian schools now, Astakhov said.
Lawmaker Sergei Mironov blamed violent video games.
“I have no doubt that this schoolboy, like practically everybody else these days, played so-called computer shooter games every day, where you easily push a button and kill adversaries, who fall down and it is great fun,” Mironov, head of the Just Russia parliament faction, said in televised remarks. He spoke of a mindset in which one can hit reset, “and everything will be different.”
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin expressed condolences to the victims’ families and said he will reexamine the security situation in city schools.
“We need to draw appropriate lessons, conduct a due investigation of the school activities and establish the reasons,” Sobyanin said in televised remarks. “We also need to take measures to enhance security at Moscow schools.”