German social services have placed in care two schoolgirls, aged 12 and 13, who confessed to murdering their 12-year-old friend in a wooded area near their home.
Police in the town of Freudenberg, an hour east of the western city of Cologne, say the girl, identified only as Luise, died last Saturday “as a result of numerous knife wounds and subsequent blood loss”.
Luise reportedly had a sleep-over from Friday to Saturday with the two girls, said to be her best friends in school. According to local media reports the three went for a walk in a forest where the older girl urged the younger girl to stab Luise with a kitchen knife, before hiding the body in a bush.
At about 5:30pm on Saturday the older girl reportedly called the dead girl’s parents to say they had parted company with Luise, who said she was heading home, but that she was not answering her phone.
Alarmed, her parents called the police, prompting a massive operation involving search teams, sniffer dogs and police helicopters.
When Luise’s body was found on Sunday, police questioned the two girl friends, who provided conflicting testimony. Brought in for further questions, in the presence of their parents and psychologists, they were presented with contradictions in their testimony.
Police say they “made statements about the matter and in the end admitted the crime” – but declined to give further details, adding only that “emotion in some way played a role”.
“What could possible be a motive for children is not necessarily something an adult would understand,” said local state prosecutor Mario Mannweiler, adding there was “no indication of a sexual offences”.
“This is a very unusual and shocking act, even for us,” he added.
The two girls were not previously known to police and will not face prosecution for the killing as the age of criminal responsibility starts at 14.
Prosecutors insisted that “this doesn’t mean that nothing will be done”.
While German courts will not put anyone under 14 on trial, they can make orders on child custody and residential care.
The two girls still have contact to their parents but have been removed from their homes, local social services reported on Wednesday, “because the children are not attending their previous schools”.
“This is an extraordinary situation that requires a lot of empathy and prudent action,” said Mr Thomas Wüst, head of the district youth welfare department.
Prosecutor Mario Mannweiler agreed that the two girls would now be protected by the law as “they still have their lives ahead of them, even if they have gone as far wrong as is conceivable”.
He said it was likely that threats against the families of the perpetrators could make police protection necessary.
While the homepage of Luise’s school said the school “lost our pupil, classmate and friend Luise at the weekend”, another tone dominated on social media.
“She was your best friend. How could you?” wrote one. Another wrote: “Monster!”
The killing has shocked Germany, where just 19 children under 14 were suspects in crimes in 2021; of them just four were girls.
Mr Hendrik Wüst, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, said he was “stunned” that “children could be capable of such acts”.