Karel Charva
Karel Charva
Background information
Born ca. 1949

June 3, 1983(1983-06-03) (aged 34)
Eppstein-Vockenhausen, West Germany

Cause of death Suicide
Attack information
Date June 3, 1983
10:45 a.m. - 11:15 a.m. (CET)
Location(s) Eppstein-Vockenhausen, West Germany
Target(s) Freiherr-vom-Stein Gesamtschule
Killed 5
Injured 14
Weapon(s) Smith & Wesson Model 59 (9mm)
Astra semi-automatic pistol (7.65mm Luger)

Karel Charva was a Czech rampage killer who killed five people and wounded 14 others at the Freiherr-vom-Stein Gesamtschule in Eppstein-Vockenhausen, West Germany on June 3, 1983, before committing suicide.[1]


Charva, a native from Prague, Czechoslovakia and follower of Alexander Dubček, fled to West Germany in 1968 when the Soviet-led intervention ended the Prague Spring. After living in a camp at Zirndorf for a while he was finally granted the status of a political refugee in 1971. Stating he was a psychologist and wanted to become a teacher Charva moved to Mörfelden-Walldorf and later to Darmstadt, where he began working as taxicab driver for a Frankfurt cab company. In 1976 he was arrested and convicted for loosening the nuts on the front wheels of two cars. Though the motives behind this deed are unknown, it was suggested that it might have been politically motivated.

Living in Frankfurt since 1981, where he found a job as security guard, Charva was known by his neighbours as a loner and very reserved person, who spent whole nights typing on his typewriter and studying chemistry and mathematics, apparently to become a teacher. He was also a member of a local gun club and legally purchased the two weapons used in the shooting in 1981. In the last weeks of his life he was described as increasingly aggressive.[2][3]


At about 7:20 a.m. Charva rented a VW panel van at a car rental agency in Frankfurt am Main and is supposed to have driven through the area in search for a school that gave lessons that day, as many were closed due to a holiday. Thus, it is assumed, it was pure chance that he ended up at the Freiherr-vom-Stein Gesamtschule in Eppstein, about 30 kilometers from Frankfurt.[2]

Charva parked his car near the school, and, leaving 160 rounds of ammunition, a bag and handcuffs behind, entered the building with two semi-automatic pistols, a 9mm Smith & Wesson Model 59 and a 7.65mm-caliber Astra, as well as seven additional magazines.

At about 10:45 a.m. he came to room 213, where Franz-Adolf Gehlhaar taught English to a sixth grade class. Charva fired a shot at Gehlhaar, missing him, and immediately retreated out of the classroom, just to reenter. When Gehlhaar confronted the 34-year-old gunman, telling him not to shoot the children, but taking him instead,[4] he fired seven shots at the teacher, hitting him in the stomach, face and left arm. As soon as Gehlhaar lay on the floor gravely wounded, Charva began shooting the children, killing three of them and wounding another 13, four of them critically. Alarmed by the gunshots teacher Hans-Peter Schmitt rushed into the classroom, trying to help, but was also shot and killed, as was Gisbert Beck, an unarmed police officer who was at the school instructing students in traffic safety.

Karel Carva crime scene

The school after the shooting.

When police arrived at the scene they tried to calm Charva down, but the gunman simply yelled at them and continued shooting. At about 11:15 a.m. Charva retreated into a classroom opposite the English class where the attack began and committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth. The autopsy of his body later showed that he had acted under the influence of alcohol.[5][6][7][8][3][9][10]

In all Charva had fired about forty shots, killed 5 people and injured another 14. Additionally 30 children suffered from shock.[11]

Initially there was some confusion, if Charva might have known the wounded teacher, as shortly before the shooting started someone had asked for Gehlhaar, though it was later found that the person was not the gunman.[2]


Eppstein memorial

The memorial for the victims of the shooting.

The five people killed by Charva are:[12]

  • Stephanie Hermann, 12
  • Javier Martinez, 11
  • Gabriele Siebert, 12
  • Hans-Peter Schmitt, 36, teacher
  • Gisbert Beck, 45, police officer

Among those wounded were Franz-Adolf Gehlhaar and Stefan Ernst.[13]


The motive behind Charva's shooting remains unknown, though it was speculated that pent-up anger and frustration about failing to bring his aspiring attempts to qualify as a teacher to fruition could have been a cause.[2][3]

According to some sources Charva spent several years at the Sigmund-Freud-Bibliothek during his eventually unsuccessful studies of psychology. The library was located at the crossing of the Eppsteiner Straße and the Freiherr-vom-Stein-Straße, and the security company he worked for until his death was also only a few blocks away, leading investigators to believe that this may have been a reason for targeting the school.[14]


External linksEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Blutiger Überfall auf eine Schule bei Frankfurt: Täter erschießt drei Kinder, einen Lehrer, einen Polizisten und sich selbst / 14 Verletzte, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 4, 1983)
  • "Die unglücklichste Stunde für Lehrer und Schüler": Zweitausend Trauergäste nehmen Abschied von den Opfern des Eppsteiner Mordanschlags., Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 9, 1983)

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