"ERFURT, Germany (April 26) - An expelled student dressed in black and carrying two guns opened fire in his former school Friday, killing 17 people before shooting himself as commandos closed in, police and witnesses said. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in recent history.
During the rampage, a handwritten sign reading ''HILFE'' - ''Help'' - was pasted to a fourth-floor window, and behind it a girl could be seen in the room. Police who later searched the Johann Gutenberg Gymnasium - which had students from grades five through 12 - said they found bodies strewn in hallways, and even bathrooms.
''We found a horrible scene,'' police spokesman Manfred Etzel told N-TV television.
The death toll matched that of the 1996 shooting at an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, where 16 children, a teacher and the gunman died. Fifteen people, included two teen-age gunmen, died in the April 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
The 19-year-old gunman at Johann Gutenberg fired at random with a handgun and another weapon, apparently a shotgun, police said. The unidentified teen had been kicked out of the school several weeks ago.
As police closed in, the gunman shot himself in a classroom where he was barricaded. Among the other dead were 14 teachers, two students and a policeman - who was among the first to charge into the building after a janitor called for help at about 11 a.m - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's office said.
Schroeder's office said the chancellor was ''horrified'' by the shooting.
The remaining 180 students were safely evacuated from the school, located in a residential area of the eastern city of Erfurt. After searching the building, police said they could not confirm accounts by school students that there was a second gunman.
Like other parts of the former communist East Germany, Erfurt, a city of 220,000 about 150 miles southwest of Berlin, has been economically struggling. The school, housed in a 1908 building, has a high academic reputation.
Shocked students who fled the shooting reported seeing a man dressed all in black roaming the hallways with a gun.
''I heard shooting and thought it was a joke,'' said 13-year-old Melanie Steinbrueck, choking back tears. ''But then I saw a teacher dead in the hallway in front of Room 209 and a gunman in black carrying a weapon.''
''The guy was dressed all in black - gloves, cap, everything was black,'' said Juliane Blank, 13. ''He must have opened the door without being heard and forced his way into the classroom.''
''We ran out into the hallways. We just wanted to get out,'' she said.
Sixth-grader Martin Streng said he was in math class when he heard gunfire coming from a classroom down the hall. As he and other students filed into the hallway to flee the building, they saw a man with a gun down the corridor behind them, Streng said.
Outside the school, a police officer with a megaphone urged parents to register their children's names before leaving the scene. Groups of dazed and shocked students huddled in the street, hugging and crying. Ambulances and police cars massed in front of the school.
It was Germany's second school shooting in recent months. In February, a 22-year-old German who recently lost his job, shot and killed two former bosses and his old high school's principal in a rampage outside Munich.
In what may be the deadliest mass killing at a school, a farmer angry about his tax bill set off dynamite at a school in Bath, Mich., on May 18, 1927, killing 43 people."