Dutch killer faced rifle charge as a teenager


AS THE death toll from Saturday’s shooting by a 24-year-old gunman in a Dutch shopping mall reached seven last night, a heated national debate was under way about how he had come to have legal permits for five weapons.

“This will definitely be part of our investigation,” said local prosecutor Kitty Nooy, as it emerged the gunman had had a number of previous run-ins with the police, including a weapons possession charge in 2003 when he was just 17. That charge was eventually dropped.

Tristan van der Vlis opened fire with an automatic weapon, described by witnesses as a machine gun, at the Ridderhof shopping centre in Alphen aan den Rijn, some 40km from Amsterdam, on Saturday, leaving six dead and 15 wounded, before shooting himself with a second gun, a revolver.

“There was tremendous panic. I saw the attacker coming. Everyone was running, and I saw people lying on the ground,” recalled Maart Verbeek, a pet-shop owner, who said Van der Vlis appeared to be firing at random into the lunchtime crowd.

A seventh victim died in hospital yesterday. A number of others remain in a critical condition. An infant reported to have been among those slightly wounded remains under observation in hospital.

The shopping centre is just 150m from the apartment block where Van der Vlis lived with his father. His mother is reported to have found a suicide note in that apartment, although it did not give any indication of his motive.

According to the mayor of Alphen aan den Rijn, Bas Eenhoorn, a second note was found in his car, saying explosives had been planted in three other shopping centres. All three were sealed off and searched.

Church services were held throughout the country yesterday to mourn the dead, and a candlelight procession was held to the shopping mall last night. An online register of condolences has also been opened.

“You hear about this sort of thing happening in American schools and you think it’s a long way away – but now it’s happened here in the Netherlands,” said Rob Kuipers (50), who took part in the procession.

Exactly how it was allowed to happen will now be the focus of the police investigation.

Ms Nooy confirmed Van der Vlis had permits for five guns – though confusion still surrounds suggestions that he was carrying three of those at the time of the shooting. She also confirmed that he was a member of a local gun club but had no military background.

Under Dutch law, owning revolvers and rifles is allowed with a permit, but they must be kept locked up unless they’re being used at a firing range or for hunting. Automatic firearms are legal only for use by the military or special police units.

Queen Beatrix and the prime minister, Mark Rutte, were among those who expressed their shock at the attack and sympathy for the victims and their families.

The killings have shaken Holland at a time when the country prepares to mark the second anniversary of the 2009 attack on a bus carrying members of the royal family.

Six people – including the driver of a car that slammed into the bus – were killed in that attack near the palace of Het Loo in Apeldoorn on April 30th, the queen’s birthday and the biggest annual holiday in the Dutch calendar.