Gunmen opened fire Friday at a shopping center in Munich, Germany, killing at least nine people. Munich police are still searching for the suspected three shooters, and the incident is being treated as a potential terrorist attack. Senior Thamina Stoll, a Munich native, witnessed the attacks and live-tweeted them as they occurred. The Chronicle's Neelesh Moorthy spoke with Stoll Friday afternoon about what went through her mind during the shootings and the immediate aftermath.
The Chronicle: Where were you when the shooting started?
Thamina Stoll: My grandma actually lives about two to three minutes away from the shopping center by foot. I was on my way back there from my internship. The local subway system is connected to the mall, so usually what people would do who live close to the mall is walk through the mall because it's faster, so that's what I did today. Then I came to my grandma's apartment, met up with my family and decided to go back to the shopping mall to get a belated birthday gift for my younger cousin.
Nothing unusual, just a regular Friday afternoon. Then we returned to my grandma's apartment, stayed there for about half an hour, met up with my mom who had just come home from work and then we decided to go again to the shopping mall because that's our Friday afternoon ritual. We went downstairs and right outside my grandma's house we ran into a family, and they were panicking, they were in shock, they were crying. They told us they had just run away from the shopping mall because they had heard gunshots both inside and outside the building.
We were shocked at first ourselves. Then we decided to go back upstairs, and we took in the family because they were shaking and everything. We gave them water and shelter. We went to my grandma's balcony and from there I witnessed about 50 people running towards our neighborhood. I recorded the video from the balcony.
Soon after, I started hearing sirens and a helicopter appeared. There were still people on the street. Nobody knew what was going on but everyone was terrified and trying to be safe.
TC: What went through your head when you first realized what was happening?
TS: Honestly, I just couldn't believe it. Obviously, me and my friends and family have been talking about the terror attacks a lot lately, especially since my dad was actually in [Nice, France] when the terror attack happened there. He was one of the people who also happened to record video footage there, and he had almost died. The truck drove by less than 300 feet away from him. I was still recovering from that, but you never really expect something like this to happen in your hometown—I was born and raised in Munich before I came to Duke.
Munich is considered to be a very, very safe city so you don't really expect anything like that to happen here. There were a lot of discussions about the whole refugee crisis, and [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel committing to taking in up to a million refugees, so a lot of people expected terrorists wouldn't target Germany.
TC: Have there been any details released on the shooters' identities?
TS: Fun fact, apparently there are three assassins, and they're still on the run. According to local media, there were two more shootings in the city center. I think only one of them is confirmed right now. The entire city is on lock-down, there are a lot of helicopters, a lot of police, the hospitals called in all of their doctors. Authorities told people to stay inside their homes and not leave their apartments or houses.
TC: Why did you decide to start live-tweeting?
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TS: After what happened to my dad, who also recorded a video, I guess I wasn't thinking, I just started recording and tweeting it because I knew something odd was happening there. Nobody had confirmed there had actually been gunshots or a terror attack, but it just seemed odd. I had never experienced anything like that. There were people running towards our house. It's a smaller street where my grandma lives, so it's usually very quiet. I've never seen that many people running around there all at once.
I just tweeted about it, but certainly did not expect that five minutes later all the major media outlets in the entire world would reach out to me and use my video. It wasn't that great of a video. It just showed people running away from something—you couldn't even see the mall or hear gunshots or anything.
TC: What has it been like, having the media contact you all day?
TS: It's been crazy. I've been doing some live-calls with CNN, BBC, CBS, NBC. I scheduled a call to talk with Megyn Kelly from Fox. I'm going to talk with Don Lemon from CNN later, apparently. At this point, I don't really know who I've talked to and who has contacted me. A lot of people friend-requested me on Facebook, contacted me via LinkedIn or Twitter.
TC: Have you taken in any more families to help them out?
TS: We took in one, and they were still missing a family member who was apparently still in the shopping mall, but he showed up later. I don't even know how many people are in this apartment right now, but I think we took in six to seven people. There was even a little child with them.
TC: Could you tell me a little about your background, having grown up in Munich?
TS: I was born and raised in Munich, and I actually attended college there for two years. It's called Ludwig Maximilian University, and then I went to Duke for a study-abroad year and ended up loving it so much that I applied for transfer admission, and now I'm a rising senior so I'll be graduating soon.
TC: What has the aftermath been like since the shootings?
TS: People have been trying to reach their loved ones for some time. I didn't know if my brother was okay, for example, so that was terrifying. But now everyone I know is safe as far as I know. We haven't left the apartment. We've been following the news, watching the TV. Police are talking to the news, occasionally confirming more victims.
TC: How are you personally coping with this?
TS: At first, I was in shock, but once news outlets started reaching out to me I didn't really have much time to process it myself. I know if I had been there a half hour later I might be dead right now, and that's terrifying, but I haven't really had a chance to process it yet. The psychological breakdown might come sometime later.