German police shot and killed a gun-toting man Thursday after the masked attacker stormed a movie theater and opened fire, police said.
None of the moviegoers was shot, although as many as 25 people may have been injured by tear gas, local media reported.
Police spokesman Bernd Hochstaedter said the armed man had entered the Kinopolis movie theater in the small western town of Viernheim, about 45 miles south of Frankfurt, around 2:45 p.m.
The attacker, clad with an ammunition belt and carrying a rifle, fired at least one shot in the air before barricading himself inside, police said. The gunman took several people hostage before officers arrived with guns drawn, said police spokewoman Christiane Kobus.
The cops “successively entered the cinema and were able to locate the man and the people he was holding,” Kobus said. “There was a threat situation and the man was then shot dead by a colleague.”
Initial media reports suggested that as many as 50 people had been injured inside the movie theater, although later, police insisted that no one besides the attacker had been injured.
Some people in the theater may have been hurt by tear gas, German media reported, although it is unclear if the irritating fumes were unleashed by police or the gunman.
Officials have not released the attacker’s identity or detailed his possible motive, but German security agents said the attack was not likely tied to terrorism. Hochstaedter said investigators haven’t found any evidence the gunman had an “Islamist background.”
The gunman was a “confused individual” — not an extremist, investigators told local media. Peter Beuth, the interior minister of Hesse state, described the attack at the regional legislature in Wiesbaden, BBC reported.
“The police had an emergency call at 2:45pm. The caller said there was a masked man… armed with a long gun. It is unclear whether it was a real gun,” Beuth said. “The caller heard four shots and said that the masked man appeared a little mentally unstable. Police special forces were called.”
Cinema staff member Guri Blakaj recounted how the attacker showed up at a popcorn counter and ordered him to close the doors to the theater with a gun held to his head.
Blakaj and other employees thought the gunman was a costumed moviegoer “but then we quickly realized it was something more serious and we lay on the ground.”
“He seemed very confused and was relatively young,” Blakaj said.
He estimated the gunman was between 18 to 25 years old and around 5-foot-5. About 6 staff members were working and 30 customers were there when the attach happened, Blakaj said.
Darmstadt prosecutor Nina Reininger said her office in the nearby town was investigating but has no information on the gunman’s identity.
The movie theater is part of Viernheim’s shopping center, which houses about 100 other businesses, according to CNN. More than 20,000 people visit the massive complex every day, though the hot summer afternoon may have kept attendance down Thursday.
In the wake of the chaos, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton deployed extra officers to New York City movie theaters Thursday.
Last month, the U.S. State Department warned American travelers to avoid trips to Europe this summer, citing terror risks.
With News Wire Services
With TOBIAS SALINGER