‘More police needed’: Killing of child puts focus on safety and security at German train stations

A young boy died after being pushed in front of a high-speed train in Frankfurt. As the suspect was set to appear in court, a nationwide debate about security at train stations is ongoing.

'More police needed': Killing of child puts focus on safety and security at German train stations
Onlookers place tributes to the eight-year-old boy at platform seven in Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

The events of Monday have left the country in shock, with unanswered questions and concerns over safety in Germany. Here's what we know so far.

What happened?   

An eight-year-old boy died after being pushed in front of an ICE train arriving at Frankfurt Central Station on Monday. 

The 40-year-old suspect, who is believed to have pushed the boy onto the tracks, is also said to have pushed the boy's mother – and he tried to push another person, too. According to police, the 40-year-old mother rescued herself by rolling onto a footpath between two tracks. The third person was able to get to safety without falling onto the tracks. 

The boy was hit by an oncoming train and sadly died. Tributes, including flowers, notes, candles and teddies, have been laid at the scene.

Tributes at platform seven. Photo: DPA

The incident took place shortly before 10am. The ICE 529 train involved had reportedly been travelling from Düsseldorf to Munich.

The alleged perpetrator then tried to flee the main station. However, onlookers chased and detained him in a street near the station until police arrived.

READ ALSO: Boy, 8, dies after being pushed in front of train in Frankfurt

Several platforms were closed in the station while investigations got underway. Frankfurt Central Station is one of the largest railway stations in Germany and is used by almost 500,000 people daily.

The suspect

According to police, the suspect is a 40-year-old man who did not know his victims. The man is said to live in Switzerland, reported Spiegel, and he is originally from Eritrea in North Africa. He has not yet commented on the attack. According to a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office, he will appear in court for the first time on Tuesday.

Investigators have called on witnesses to report to the police with any relevant information.

Urgent meeting on security in Germany

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, of the centre right CSU, the sister party of Angela Merkel’s CDU, interrupted his holiday to consult with security authorities in Berlin “in view of several serious recent acts”. These acts include the racist shooting of a 26-year-old Eritrean man in Hesse's Wächtersbach, as well as threats against representatives of the Left Party and against mosques in Germany.

Tensions are already high in Germany following the fatal shooting of pro-refugee CDU politician Walter Lübcke on June 2nd. The suspect in custody has multiple links to the far-right scene, according to prosecutors.

Seehofer will present the results of his meeting with security authorities at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “The perpetrator will be held responsible for the crime by all legal means,” Seehofer said in a statement.

He pledged to provide the state of Hesse with the support of the Federal Police and the Federal Criminal Police Office if needed.

Hesse's state premier Volker Bouffier (CDU) also spoke out against the crime, describing it as an “abominable act”. Frankfurt's Mayor, Peter Feldmann, expressed his condolences to the relatives.

“What we know so far about the crime contradicts everything that Frankfurt stands for,” the SPD politician said on Facebook.

Are people safe at train stations?

The attack has also sparked a debate about security at Germany's railway stations.

Jörg Radek, deputy federal chairman of the Police Union (GdP), warned against imitators. Throughout Germany, similar cases have repeatedly caused horror.

Police closed off part of Frankfurt main station on Monday. Photo: DPA

On July 20th, a woman was pushed in front of a train at the station in the small town of Voerde, near Duisburg, in North Rhine-Westphalia. The 34-year-old mother-of-one died at the scene.

The 28-year-old suspect, who was of Kosovo Serb origin and identified as Jackson B, was known to police. He is being held in custody and is not thought to have known the victim.

In September 2018, an 18-year-old man pushed a 43-year-old on the train tracks in Cologne following a dispute, yet the victim did not sustain any injuries. The video captured by a surveillance camera showed the shocking crime.

In 2016, a 20-year-old woman died in Berlin after she was pushed in front of an oncoming U-Bahn train by a stranger in another tragic incident.

'Not enough police officers at stations'

Radeck, of the Police Union, said police were trying to be more prepared for these kinds of acts.

However, Radek told German media group RND that preventative measures have limits “in cases of intentional acts”.

In view of Germany's 5,600 stations and stops, it could be tricky to find a one-size-fits-all solution. “They are all so differently structured that it would be difficult to develop a concept for all,” he said.

Philipp Amthor of the CDU said the latest shocking incident which has resulted in the death of a youngster would see “rapid and tangible consequences for the perpetrator”.

Emergency services at Frankfurt Haputbahnhof on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

“In addition, I am open to a discussion about better security measures at our stations,” he added.

Centre-left Social Democrat's (SPD) traffic expert Martin Burkert criticized inadequate supervision of train platforms according to Germany's Bild newspaper, saying there was a lack of police officers at stations.

From the point of view of Anke Rehlinger, also of the SPD, actions like those in Frankfurt cannot be prevented by security measures. The Saarland transport minister told RND: “Such an act does not reveal a security gap, but a humanity gap”.

Stand away from platform edge

Passengers waiting for trains in Germany are being advised to stay alert when waiting for a train, to avoid using mobile phones when a train is approaching and to stand at least two metres away from the platform edge.

Unlike in some other countries, there are no ticket barriers at German train stations, so anyone can get on to a platform whether or not they have a ticket.

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Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.