A Catholic Elementary School in Cologne, Germany
Thursday, June 11, 1964
Walter Seifert’s wife died in childbirth a few years ago and because he had tuberculosis, he had been out of work for years. Walter wrote several letters about his unfair treatment by medical officers to the head of the health department, the director of the upper city and the head of the provincial government trying in vain to make a war pension valid. All of these failed. Several medical officers certified Walter with schizophrenia symptoms, but they did not think he was violent.
Today, just after 9 a.m., he proved them wrong. Walter converted a garden sprayer into a flamethrower and filled it with an easily inflammable mixture that could deliver a six-meter flame. He took his new flamethrower, a lance that was 1.5 meters long and a homemade iron centrifuge to the Catholic elementary school at Cologne Volkhoven.
The school consisted of three wood pavilions, containing six classrooms, near the main administration building. He entered the school yard and blocked a small school gate with a wooden wedge. In the schoolyard, teacher Anna Langohr was teaching a group of girls about sports.
Walter went to the first pavilion, which held four classrooms, threw some disks in with the centrifuge, put the flamethrower into an opened window and pulled the trigger. The wooden classrooms and the clothes of the children immediately caught on fire and panic ensued.
Gertrud Bollenrath, a teacher, began to smoother the flames from the children’s clothes before going out into the yard and putting herself in harm’s way. Walter stabbed her with the lance. By now, the student’s were running all over the schoolyard and Walter let loose another deadly flame.
Anna, 67, tried to stay between the students and Walter, but the flames over took her and she collapsed to the ground. Walter then began to approach another wooden pavilion. The teacher’s inside, Mrs. Ursula Kouhr and a teacher identified only as Kunz, saw him coming and tried to shut the wing doors, but Walter tore one of them off it’s hinges. Ursula, 24, lost her balance and fell down. Walter stabbed the fallen teacher several times while she was on the floor, killing her.
By now, the neighbors were responding to the fire and commotion in the school yard so Walter fled the scene into a field. He didn’t get to far as the police apprehended him in the field. He didn’t get much further than that either as, during the chase, he swallowed a cap of plant poison E605. By the time the sunset on this horrific day, Walter had died in Lindenburg.
Meanwhile, men who drove the garbage trucks were able to break down the gate Walter had wedged closed and extinguished the fire with blankets and clothes. They stopped cars in the street and had them transport the wounded students to area hospitals.
The students had burns over 90% of their bodies. Eight students died from their injuries. Gertrud, 62, died just after 1:00 at Holy Spirit Hospital. Anna was in critical status for week and wasn’t until October that she was able to leave the hospital . The 28 students who were wounded underwent months of long and painful treatment, which could not heal the scars completely, both physical and psychological.
The Volkhoven council decided a few days later to tear down the school, to remove the reminder of this gruesome event. In 1965, the Catholic elementary school in Cologne Heimersdorf was named for Ursula Kuhr.
In 1986, the Sonderschule (special school) at Fuehlinger Weg was named for Gertrud Bollenrath. For her acts of bravery and heroism, Anna Langohr received the Medal Cross from Pope Paul VI, the Service Medal and the Service Award of the FRG from Mayor John van Nes Ziegler and the Rescue Medal of North Rhine-Westphalia. Anna died on January 27, 1990 at the age of 93.