BELGRADE, May 4 (Reuters) – A gunman escaped on Friday after killing eight people and wounding 13 others near Belgrade, local media reported, the second deadly shooting around the Serbian capital in two day.
Heavily armed police have set up roadblocks near the town of Mladenovac, 42 km (26 miles) south of Belgrade, and are looking for a 21-year-old suspect.
The shooting came less than 48 hours after a 13-year-old boy shot nine and wounded seven at a school in Belgrade before surrendering.
Interior Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to local media, the suspect was involved in an altercation in a school yard on Thursday and left but returned with an assault rifle and a handgun. He opened fire and proceeded to shoot people at random in three villages from the moving vehicle.
State broadcaster RTS reported that an off-duty policeman and his sister were among those killed.
Around 600 Serbian police, including the elite Special Antiterrorist Unit (SAJ) and Gendarmerie launched the manhunt, dubbed Operation Whirlwind, RTS reported.
Inside the village of Dubona near Mladenovac, a Reuters witness saw armed police setting up a checkpoint and looking for oncoming traffic. Armored police SUVs and black vans circled the area.
“It’s sad, the young policeman is the same age as my daughter, born in 1998,” said Danijela, a middle-aged woman in Dubona. “My daughter takes sedatives, we can’t sleep all night, they grew up together.”
The wounded were taken to several local hospitals, Belgrade’s Pink TV reported.
A helicopter, drones and multiple police patrols are searching for the suspect in the rolling hills around Dubona and nearby villages, scouring abandoned houses and woods.
“It’s terrible for our state, it’s a big defeat. In two days so many … were killed,” said Ivan, a resident of Dubona.
COUNTRY TO GET DOWN
The Balkan nation begins three days of official mourning on Friday following the first school shooting on Wednesday.
The suspected shooter took two of his father’s guns to kill eight students and a security guard in a hallway and history class at their school in the capital Belgrade.
Hundreds of school children with candles and flowers gathered for a vigil Thursday night in the streets around the school, while churches planned memorial prayers.
Dozens of high school teachers rallied in front of the Education Ministry in downtown Belgrade on Thursday, demanding improvements in school security and the education system.
Serbia has an entrenched gun culture, especially in rural areas, but also strict gun control laws. Automatic weapons are illegal and over the years authorities have offered some amnesty to those who surrender them.
After the school shooting in Belgrade, the Serbian government introduced a two-year ban on issuing new gun permits, a revision of existing permits and checks on how gun owners store their weapon
However, the country, and the rest of the Western Balkans, is full of military-grade weapons and ordnance that remained in private hands after the wars of the 1990s.
Reporting by Ivana Sekularac Editing by Bill Berkrot
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