A teenager in black combat gear went on a bloody rampage at his former school in Germany on Wednesday, slaying at least 15 people before dying in a shootout with police, officials said.
Nine pupils, three teachers and three passers-by were among those killed in the shooting spree at the secondary school in Winnenden, said Heribert Rech, the interior minister of the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
After armed commandos with helicopters and dogs then launched a massive hunt for the 17-year-old gunman, police sources told AFP that he was then killed in a fire-fight with police.
German media reports said that he had shot himself dead in the car park of a nearby shopping centre after kidnapping a man and his Volkswagen Sharan car and driven through a police barrier towards the motorway.
"The gunman just sprayed bullets all around him," N-TV cited an unnamed witness as saying. A local radio journalist told the same channel that the ex-pupil had used a machine gun during his rampage.
The Bild daily said on its website that police commandos had stormed the home of the teenager's parents, where 18 weapons were legally held.
It was not immediately clear whether the gunman used any these guns in his attack.
The picturesque town of Winnenden, which lies around 25 kilometres (15 miles) northeast of the city of Stuttgart in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, has around 27,000 inhabitants.
Europe has been scarred by a number of fatal attacks on schools or nurseries in recent years, at least three of them in Germany.
In February 2002, a 22-year-old gunman killed the headmaster and seriously injured another person in a vocational training establishment he attended at Freising, near Munich.
Two months later, 16 people were killed at a high-school in Erfurt in eastern Germany, by a 19-year-old former student, who then killed himself.
In November 2006, a former student at a vocational school in Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany went a shooting spree in the establishment, injuring 37 people before turning his gun on himself.
He had warned of his intentions on the Internet.
Elsewhere, in September 2008, a student at another vocational school, this time in Finland, burst into a classroom and gunned down nine students and a teacher. He then set the building on fire before killing himself.
He too warned of his intentions via an Internet video.
In January this year, a 20-year-old man armed with a knife killed two infants, aged six and nine months, and a 54-year-old nurse in a childcare centre outside Brussels.
In the US southern state of Alabama on Tuesday, a gunman killed at least ten people before killing himself, local authorities and state police said.