Sedat Gürbüz’s mother Emiş and Ferhat Unvar’s brother Mirza: “Why isn’t my son’s grave also an honorary grave?”
The Hanau Protocols
Aftermath of a Deadly Racist Attack
On Feb. 19, 2020, a right-wing extremist murdered nine young people in Hanau. Because the gunman shot himself, there will be no trial. But those left behind have questions for the country they call home.
By Özlem Gezer und Timofey Neshitov
Filip Goman: Serpil, nobody understands what we’re doing here.
Serpil Unvar: Yeah, not even our people at home understand.
Filip Goman: Why do we come here every day?
Filip Goman points to the pictures on the white wall across the room. The picture of his daughter Mercedes. The picture of Serpil Unvar’s son Ferhat. The pictures of the seven other young people who he didn’t know before Feb. 19, 2020. In this room, they are all next to one another, laminated in plastic and framed by a gray curtain:
The room is 140 square meters (1,500 square feet) of commercial space on Krämerstrasse, a street in the German city of of Hanau in the state of Hesse. It used to be a sex shop, but today, a sign reading #saytheirnames hangs over the display window in illuminated blue lettering.
Everyday, people meet here who previously didn’t know each other, even though most of them had been living in the same neighborhood for decades. They have been brought together by a man they alternately refer to as “Tobias,” “the dog,” or “the bastard.” The reference is to the racist who used to be their neighbor – and who shot and killed their children on the night of Feb. 19, 2020, at six different sites, all within just a few minutes. He then returned to his home, where he shot his mother and then himself.
The storefront on Krämerstrasse where the families meet in Hanau. Foto: Milos Djuric / DER SPIEGEL
Because he is dead, there won’t be a trial. But the questions to which a trial may have provided answers exist all the same.
The people who come here are not investigators, they’re not lawyers or judges. They were bus drivers, carpenters and carpet sellers; they are parents, siblings and friends. They are witnesses, neighbors and survivors.
Together, they are looking for answers which – even a year after the biggest right-wing extremist attack in Germany’s postwar history – nobody can provide.
Not the police in southeastern Hesse, not the public prosecutors in Hanau, not the Federal Public Prosecutor General. Not the chancellor or the German president. Not the governor of the state of Hesse and certainly not the state’s interior minister.
The gunman killed his victims in bars, on the side of the road, in a kiosk and in the parking lot of a discount supermarket.
The gunman killed his victims in bars, on the side of the road, in a kiosk and in the parking lot of a discount supermarket. Foto: Boris Roessler / dpa
Because they feel they have been left in the lurch by the powers that be, they have begun their own trial of sorts in the shop on Krämerstrasse in Hanau. They sit on pink velvet easy chairs, with tea in the samovar, the sound of boiling water having become the background noise of the February 19th Initiative. Inside this shopfront – rented by leftist activists just a few weeks after the attack without really knowing what they would use it for – is where they have been trying to come to terms with a crime in which a right-wing extremist terrorist killed as many people in a single night as the neo-Nazi terror cell National Socialist Underground (NSU) killed in six years.
They are wondering why emergency calls weren’t answered that night. Why the emergency exit was blocked at one of the crime scenes. Why autopsies were performed on their children without their permission. They don’t understand why a mentally ill person was allowed to possess a weapon in Germany. Whether there were accessories to the crime. Whether this crime could have been prevented, the investigation of which was taken over by the Federal Public Prosecutor General because it had the “potential of endangering the domestic security of the Federal Republic of Germany.” A crime that was categorized as an attack that could damage Germany’s international reputation because it again targeted people who had roots abroad.
In this room where they are looking for answer to such questions, they invite witnesses, reconstruct the events of that night, examine the police records of the emergency calls that were made. They look through investigation files, analyze the perpetrator’s psychiatric report, read the police evaluation of his computer, identify new witnesses and examine the autopsy reports of their children.
† Nesar Hashemi, 21
Brother Etris, 24
Mother Najiba, 45
Sister Saida, 25
Father Mir Salam, 57
DER SPIEGEL spent several months with the families of Hanau. This story partly retraces the discussions they had with each other each and every day and gives them the space to talk about what they experienced in their own voices. It is a record of their anger, their desperation, their mourning. It is the record of an estrangement from a country that, before Feb. 19, 2020, they called home.
DER SPIEGEL 7/2021
The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 7/2021 (February 13, 2021) of DER SPIEGEL.
The Night of the Shooting
Kim Schröder: A few minutes before, Ferhat and Mercedes had just told me I was going to have a boy. I was pregnant and constantly had a craving for sour gummy snakes. I briefly stepped outside the kiosk, came back inside and said, someone’s shooting. Yeah, kids with firecrackers, Ferhat said. Then the bastard came inside.
The shooting started at 9:55 p.m. The gunman killed people at six different sites – in three bars, on the side of a road, in the parking lot of a discount supermarket and in a kiosk.
It is possible to create a detailed timeline of that night’s events, but sitting in the room on Krämerstrasse, the accounts produce a series of random images, a nightmare with no beginning and no end.
Kim Schröder: I ducked behind the counter. When he started shooting in the Arena Bar next door, I jumped out of the store window and stopped three cars. I said there is a gunman, my friends are bleeding to death, I’m pregnant. They all just drove away.
In the video footage from the security camera at Kiosk 24/7 on Kurt Schumacher Square – Crime Scene 5 in the investigation files – the perpetrator is visible as he walks in. He fires five shots in six seconds. Two bullets hit Gökhan Gültekin in the heart and in the head. He was 37 years old. Two bullets hit Mercedes Kierpacz, one piercing her lungs, liver and heart, the other severing her carotid artery. She was 35. One bullet struck Ferhat Unvar on this evening, tearing through his liver, a kidney and his spine. He was 23 years old.
Kim Schröder is a frequent visitor to the “Ini,” as they call this space. She charges her phone here, uses the WiFi and warms up milk for Dario. She is 25 years old. On the night of the shooting, she was four months pregnant with Dario.
On this day in November, she is sitting in a velvet easy chair across from Armin Kurtović. He has a lot of questions about the night on which his son died. And Kim is one of the witnesses that tell him over and over again about that night. On this afternoon, Kurtović takes her son Dario in his arms, turns to his wife Dijana, and says: “If our children have a child, they should name it Hamza!”
Hamza Kurtović was the son of Armin and Dijana Kurtović. That night, he was with his friends in Arena Bar, Crime Scene 6.
In video footage from Arena Bar, you can see the barkeeper and an older guest at the bar. In the room, you can see the friends Hamza, Momo, Piter and the two Hashemi brothers, Etris and Nesar.
Etris Hashemi: In front of the Arena Bar, I saw the ring Nesar was wearing and I said: What kind of ugly ring is that? He was wearing it for the first time that evening. We laughed. Nesar loved Versace.
† Nesar Hashemi: Ring Foto: Milos Djuric / DER SPIEGEL
Etris Hashemi is the older brother of Nesar Hashemi, who was 21. The brothers had been in Frankfurt that day, where Nesar had the number 63454 tattooed on the inside of both of his biceps. Their father, Mir Salam Hashemi, is a shift leader at the tire producer Dunlop. He came to Germany from Kabul in the 1980s before bringing his wife to join him. They had five children and hoped their lives would be easier in Kesselstadt, postal code 63454.
Kesselstadt is a part of Hanau with high-rise housing projects and a castle called Schloss Philippsruhe. Immigrants make up a significant share of the population and there are many families with a lot of children. There is a youth center available to them, called JUZ, but once it closes its doors at 10 p.m., the youth have nowhere else to go to hang out. The Arena Bar is a “filthy hole,” as they say themselves. It’s a bar that’s not really a bar. Football is constantly playing on the big-screen televisions and there are gaming machines in the corner. It’s a place to hang out when it’s cold outside.
Piter Minnemann: I was coming from boxing practice. The guys had ordered pizza and I also grabbed one. I walked into the Arena Bar and immediately started hearing the gunfire from the kiosk next door.
The gunman can be seen in the surveillance footage. He fires off 16 shots in 13 seconds. The friends Hamza, Momo, Piter and the two Hashemi brothers Etris and Nesar hide behind a pillar toward the back of the bar, while some make it to safety behind the counter, lying on top of each other. The gunman, though, fires over the counter and all of them are hit except for Piter Minnemann.
Etris Hashemi: I held Momo’s wound closed and he did the same for my neck. Then Piter pulled Momo out and said we had to get out of here before he comes back. I can’t just lie here and die, I thought to myself.
Etris Hashemi ran into the kiosk next door, where he saw Gökhan, Mercedes and Ferhat lying on the floor. Etris Hashemi knew Ferhat Unvar, having sat at the same table with him in elementary school. The friends Hamza and Nesar went to kindergarten together, and on this evening, they remained behind on the floor of the Arena Bar.
Hamza Kurtović was hit by two bullets, one in the upper arm and another in the back of his head, but his heart was still beating. He was declared dead at 12:35 a.m. in a Frankfurt hospital. Two bullets pierced the back of Nesar Hashemi, hitting his heart, aorta, stomach and liver. He died at the scene.
In the parking lot outside, Etris Hashemi leaned on a silver Mercedes, holding his wound closed. He could no longer feel his tongue. He had a bullet in his jaw and another bullet had passed through his shoulder. Vili-Viorel Păun, 22, was sitting in the driver’s seat. The gunman had shot him in the forehead, the breast and the shoulder. The police report from that night notes that he was still breathing when the first officers arrived at the scene. He had come to Hanau from Romania three years before, the only son of warehouse workers Iulia and Niculescu Păun. The image of his silver Mercedes CLS 321, covered with a golden foil to conceal the interior and the driver’s door hanging open, circled the globe.
† Vili-Viorel Păun, 22
Father Niculescu, 45
Mother Iulia, 42
Vili-Viorel Păun was a delivery driver for Amazon and had brought the car with him from Romania. He lived with his parents in the city center, just a few minutes from Heumarkt, the square where the first shots were fired on this night. That is where Kaloyan Velkov, 33, was shot. He was standing behind the counter in a bar called La Votre, Crime Scene 1. That same evening, he had sent a winter jacket to his son back in Bulgaria. He was struck by four bullets.
† Kaloyan Velkov: Tree Foto: Milos Djuric / DER SPIEGEL
The exterminator Fatih Saraçoğlu, 34, was shot to death with four bullets as he was standing on the side of the road smoking a cigarette, Crime Scene 2. He had just been meeting with colleagues to discuss expanding his company nationwide. Just a few minutes before he was shot, he wrote a WhatsApp message to his girlfriend: “I’ll be right there, my life.”
Sedat Gürbüz was also killed, the operator of Midnight, a shisha bar, Crime Scene 3. He was only there because he wanted to bid farewell to his former employees in person, since he had just sold the bar a few days earlier. He was 29 years old. He was shot in the head.
Surveillance footage recorded a short time later shows the gunman shooting at the car of Vili-Viorel Păun, who threw his car into reverse and started following the attacker. Păun followed him for 2.4 kilometers, all the way to Kesselstadt – to the discounter parking lot, a Lidl, Crime Scene 4.
The gunman fired off at least 47 shots that night, with investigators describing his motive as: “Treacherous murder out of base motive” and stating that he was specifically targeting victims with foreign roots.
Çetin Gültekin: If they had answered Vili’s call, then wouldn’t we have three victims instead of nine?
Niculescu Păun, Vili’s father, often sits in one of the black leather easy chairs and talks about Vili, his only son. He spoke five languages and wanted to become a food technologist. The father says he closed the window in his room on that Feb. 20 and thought: Maybe Vili is with a woman? Later, he headed to work in the warehouse, packing whiskey onto pallets. He only learned that his son was dead that afternoon. Nicolescu Păun had been a taxi driver in Romania. He lived in a village near Bucharest and says he came to Hanau for Vili.
Months after the murder, the investigators gave him Vili’s mobile phone back. When Păun unlocked the phone and scrolled through the list of calls, he discovered that his son had called the emergency number 110 three times that night. Since he found that out, he has repeatedly held up the screenshots at the Initiative.
In late November, the family received the investigation files, in which it is noted that the calls from Vili could not be found in the emergency call records. On this morning, voices are raised at the breakfast table at the Initiative. Çetin Gültekin, Gökhan’s brother, holds up a file memo and slams it down on the table.
The memo notes that because of the volume of calls that night, the Hanau police were unable to answer all of them. The calls, it said, piled up in the control room at Hanau Police Station 01 and were processed at just two workstations. There were, the report continues, technical problems with recording the calls.
According to the list of emergency calls, the first call reached the station at 9:56 p.m., about a minute after the gunman shot Kaloyan Velkov at the first crime scene, with the second call coming in at almost exactly the same time. The police received a third call as the gunman was shooting at the final crime scene, the Arena Bar. The emergency calls were not transferred and the calls from Vili-Viorel Păun were not received. According to the files, the police received no calls at all for more than an hour on that night.
Serpil Unvar: Nobody supposedly called for an entire hour?
Çetin Gültekin: They should at least not send it to us and treat us like idiots.
Nicolescu Păun: Maybe they were out taking a cigarette break?
In January 2021, almost a year after the shooting spree, the police headquarters in southeastern Hesse admitted in response to a query from DER SPIEGEL that the officers at the police station had been overwhelmed and said that a “transfer concept was planned” and it should begin sending emergency calls on to Frankfurt at some point this year.
Ever since the people in the Initiative learned that the emergency calls from Vili-Viorel Păun went nowhere, they have begun wondering if perhaps six additional murders could have been prevented. They wonder if Vili himself might still be alive if the officers had answered his calls and told him to stop following the gunman.
They don’t know.
They only know that Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth, during their meeting with him last May at state parliament, praised the job done by the police that night and told them nothing of the failures that were documented in the files.
On this morning, they are furious. They don’t understand why they have to reconstruct events from that night when people in positions of authority have known about them for months.
Their anger is no longer directed just at the perpetrator.
Excerpts from a WhatsApp exchange between Armin Kurtović and his daughter Ajla Kurtović:
Ajla, 10:12 p.m.: There was just a shooting in Hanau. At Heumarkt. Apparently one person was killed.
Armin, 10:19 p.m.: There was something here at Lidl too.
Ajla: Just now?
Ajla: What was it? Maybe they’re connected?
Armin: I don’t know.
Ajla, 10:24 p.m.: And what happened in Kesselstadt?
Ajla: You just wrote that something happened there?
Armin: Yes, but nothing big. I’m heading into the city. There are helicopters circling.
Ajla: I’m going to bed.
Ajla Kurtović goes offline.
Armin, 10:35 p.m.: I’m walking over to Lidl, someone was apparently killed here too.
Five of the victims’ families live in Kesselstadt. Those who couldn’t reach their children on their mobile phones walked over to Kurt Schumacher Square.
Çetin Gültekin: When I got to the Lidl parking lot, my mother was lying on the ground screaming. The crime scene was sealed off. She grabbed me by the collar and told me to go in and pull my brother out. I went up to a police officer and said, do me a favor. I’ll call my brother. You go into the kiosk and tell me if a phone rings. He came back and said: Yes, a phone rang.
In one crime scene photo, Gökhan Gültekin is lying slumped in a heap behind the counter. He had been in the process of building up a moving company in Hanau and worked as a building superintendent in hospitals. At night, he sometimes worked at the kiosk. People in the neighborhood called him Gogo. Çetin and Gökhan are the children of a man who left southeastern Turkey in the 1960s to work on highway construction sites in Germany. He wanted to save up enough money to buy two oxen and then return to Turkey. When he was working on the highway A45, he lived in a workers’ hostel in Hanau. He liked the city and he decided to stay, and brought his wife Hüsna from Turkey to join him. They had two sons and moved with them to Kesselstadt.
Mir Salam Hashemi: On the day of the attack, I went to a rehab session. I told Nesar, give me a kiss, I’m going. He said: I’ll drive you to the station, papa. No, you don’t need to, I’m taking the bus, I told him. That night, Saida called. Papa, there has been a shooting and the guys aren’t answering their phones. I told the doctor, I have to leave. You were dreaming, the doctor replied. I found a taxi and paid 300 euros. The driver let me out in front of the perpetrator’s house. All of the roads were blocked off. I told the police officer that I live here. They didn’t let me through.
Emiş Gürbüz was waiting in a hotel lobby on Heumarkt. Her first child Sedat lay behind the warning tape in the shisha bar across the way.
Diana Sokoli hit the police officer who brought her the mobile phone of her boyfriend Fatih Saraçoğlu. He was lying dead in an ambulance.
Kaloyan Velkov’s Facebook account remained online for hours and his cousin Vaska Zlateva kept writing to him: Tell me, are you okay?
† Kaloyan Velkov, 33
Cousin Vaska Zlateva, 35
That night, the family members were taken to a police auditorium where they sat down on benches. There were Twix bars and Snickers. And black tea. At dawn, an officer read out the list of names of those who had been killed.
The family members frequently talk about that night in the shop on Krämerstrasse and how they noticed each other for the first time: waiting, crying, and then screaming and flailing about. It was the night that brought them together, a night when nobody wanted to be where they were. After the names were read out, they all had the same questions. They didn’t know who had killed their children and why. Where were they now? Many of them again drove by the Lidl parking lot that morning and didn’t realize that their children were still lying there.
Hamza Kurtović had only just started his job in a warehouse a few weeks earlier. He told his father: I’m going to stay there until I retire. Armin Kurtović called the company hotline from the police auditorium and said that Hamza had been injured and wouldn’t be able to come to work the next day.
† Hamza Kurtović, 22
Sister Ajla, 25
Father Armin, 46
Mother Dijana, 47
Çetin Gültekin: After the autopsy, they sewed my brother up and wrapped him in plastic wrap so he wouldn’t come apart. I always thought autopsies were performed in cases when it wasn’t clear how someone died. In our religion, it is considered a desecration of the corpse. It’s almost like killing a dead person a second time. I soaped up Gökhan and poured water over him, but pink blood kept coming out of the places where he had been stitched up. It was the first time I had ever performed such a washing. It took almost two hours. The imam had told me that no blood could get onto the shroud. We plugged every small hole on his body with cotton.
In the investigation file is an email from Feb. 21, written by a federal prosecutor to the investigating judge at the Federal Court of Justice, with the subject line: “Hearing of the family members of the deceased victims – application for impoundment and autopsy.” “The families of Hamza Kurtović, Ferhat Unvar and Gökhan Gültekin were already contacted on Feb. 19, 2020.” The sentence is a source of anger at the Initiative. The families were only read the list of names of their dead children on the morning of Feb. 20. Hamza Kurtović was only declared dead in the hospital at 12:35 a.m.
† Hamza Kurtović: Model car
† Hamza Kurtović: Model car Foto: Milos Djuric / DER SPIEGEL
A criminal investigator noted Hamza’s mobile phone number, shoe size and address and, in the form pertaining to the body, he wrote: “No known contact person” – despite the fact that Hamza’s parents were registered with the police and were waiting in the police auditorium for information about the whereabouts of their son.
They can’t get past the fact that they were only allowed to see their children after the autopsies had been performed.
Armin Kurtović: When the coroner started cutting my son apart the next day, they were still telling me on the phone that they didn’t know where he was. I read later in the files that they had received permission for the autopsy from the public prosecutor in Hanau, but she no longer had jurisdiction. The Federal Public Prosecutor General had already taken over the case. That is unauthorized assumption of authority. When you address the mistakes with the officials, they say they had never experienced such a thing: The functionaries, the administrator, the police officers, none of them were prepared for it. But what do they think? That we families were prepared for it?
Najiba Hashemi: It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen a corpse, and it belonged to my son. When I washed him, a tear trickled out of Nesar’s eye. I wanted to see everything. I wanted everything back. I don’t want to close my eyes and forget. We had to wait six days before we got him back.
Filip Goman didn’t go to the police auditorium in the night of the shootings. He stayed at the Lidl parking lot. He no longer had any hope. He had no more questions for the police. His sons’ friends had seen her. He knew that Mercedes was lying dead on the floor of the kiosk.
Filip Goman: I said to the police officer: I don’t want you to say later that the gypsy ruined the crime scene. I’m waiting here. But you have to promise me that I will be allowed to go in to bid farewell to my daughter.
Filip Goman is 57 years old, the son of Polish Roma from Katowice. His grandparents were murdered in a Nazi concentration camp. In the 1960s, he traveled through German cities in his parents’ mobile home. He never went to school and later became a carpet salesman. When his wife Sophia became pregnant, he took her to the cinema where they watched “The Count of Monte Cristo.” They gave their daughter the name of the beautiful Catalan woman in the film: Mercedes. Goman bought a villa, drove a Rolls Royce and lived on marble floors. They would vacation in Monte Carlo. His sons say: He became a millionaire three times and gambled it all away. Goman married Mercedes to her cousin, and she was 17 when she gave birth to their son Colorado. The marriage didn’t last and she moved back into the villa before marrying her second husband. When he was sent to prison, she moved to Kesselstadt and worked in the kiosk. But even when she wasn’t working, “Benz” was always there, say her friends. She called it “chilling,” says Goman. She drank Jack-and-Cola and turned up the music.
† Mercedes Kierpacz, 35
Son Colorado, 17
Mother Sophia, 60
Father Filip Goman, 57
That night, Filip Gorman waited at the Lidl parking lot for 20 hours. After investigators had finished gathering evidence, a police officer led him to Mercedes.
At the Initiative, he often speaks of this moment. His daughter, he says, looked as though she wanted to say: Sorry, I didn’t mean to die here. When Goman talks about bidding farewell to his daughter, the others stare off into space. He is the only one who was able to see his child before the autopsy.
Serpil Unvar: Filip was smart. He just waited there. We didn’t know that they were inside. I was 100 percent convinced that Ferhat was just injured and in the hospital.
Filip Goman: But Serpil, you were there.
Serpil Unvar: Yes, I was there. I asked all of the police officers and showed them his picture. Nobody who looks like that is here, they said.
Serpil Unvar only received her son’s death certificate from the city three weeks after the shooting. There, she read his official time of death for the first time: 3:10 a.m.
Months after the shooting, Unvar is still plagued by the question as to how much Ferhat suffered that night. Is it really the case that nobody helped him for five hours?
Serpil Unvar was born in a Kurdish city in southern Turkey. Her father went to Paris and she joined him later, marrying a man who her brother had chosen for her, the son of a Kurdish road builder from Hanau. She gave birth to four children, but never found happiness with her husband. When they separated, Ferhat became a father to his little brother Mirza. She gave Ferhat Dostoyevsky to read when he was 12. She wanted him to have a conscience, she says.
† Ferhat Unvar, 24
Brother Mirza, 8
On his last day, she was in the kitchen talking on the phone. She waved to Ferhat as he left for the youth center to play pool. He arrived at the kiosk six minutes before the shooter.
In surveillance footage, Ferhat Unvar sinks to the floor, grabs for his pants pocket and pulls out his mobile phone – then the recording breaks off for unknown reasons. It starts up again after three minutes, but Ferhat is no longer in the frame. Judging from later photos of the crime scene, he crawled past Gökhan and Mercedes behind the counter. According to the last witnesses who were in the kiosk, Ferhat Unvar said in Turkish: “I’m burning.”
The first police to enter the kiosk didn’t look behind the counter. Later, a police officer stepped over him on several occasions, trying to block the window with a sun umbrella. He never bent down to Ferhat.
Serpil Unvar had her lawyer write to the Federal Public Prosecutor General and she has repeatedly voiced her doubts in interviews. When Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht visited the families in Hanau last September, Unvar asked if she could help her clear up this question. At the Initiative, she often sits under Ferhat’s picture and speaks with him: What are you doing there, Ferhat? And then she again screams at whoever is sitting next to her.
Serpil Unvar: They simply didn’t check on him!
Çetin Gültekin: Maybe they just forgot to include the two in the report, Serpil. Maybe he died at 23:10 instead of 3:10, you understand?
Serpil Unvar: No, I don’t understand.
She has never taken the sheets off of his bed. You can still see the burned holes from his cigarette in the bathroom, traces of his fists in the door and his name scratched into the chimney.
After the shooting, they got their son’s mobile phone back and they set it in his room. Ferhat’s fingerprints are still on the display, traced in his blood.
Day to Day …