Dutch hospital official says questions were raised over alleged gunman’s mental state

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — A medical student accused of killing three people in shootings at an apartment and a hospital in the Dutch city of Rotterdam had been told to undergo a psychological evaluation to establish whether he was mentally fit to become a doctor, a hospital official said Friday.

The suspect, identified by Dutch media only as Fouad L., was arrested by heavily armed police on Thursday wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a firearm, police said.

He allegedly shot a 39-year-old woman and her 14-year-old daughter in an apartment near his home on Thursday afternoon and then went to the nearby Erasmus Medical Center, where he shot a 43-year-old doctor who was teaching a class at the hospital. All three died of their injuries. Police and prosecutors said the shooter also started fires at both locations.

In a statement, the hospital identified the doctor as Jurgen Damen, calling him a “beloved teacher” and a “well-known figure in the education community of Rotterdam. Our hearts go out to Jurgen’s family.”

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While prosecutors have not yet commented on a possible motive, Stefan Sleijfer, chairman of the Executive Board of Erasmus MC and dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, said the shootings could be linked to a psychological examination of the suspect during his studies.

“What happened was that we had previous signals from the police and they were asking us whether this person was fit and was suitable to become a medical doctor. And that was a signal that we took very seriously,” Sleijfer told The Associated Press. The hospital later clarified that it only received a letter from prosecutors about the alleged shooter.

“Subsequently the student was assessed whether he, from a mental perspective, was fit enough to become a medical doctor. And that was a process that was ongoing. So probably there is a relationship with that and the reason why he committed this horrible thing,” Sleijfer added.

The academic hospital issued a statement saying the alleged gunman had accumulated all necessary credits to gain his diploma and had agreed to a psychological evaluation, however it said “it is unknown if there was any contact with a psychologist.”

At a press conference Thursday night, the city’s chief public prosecutor confirmed that the suspect previously had been convicted in 2021 of mistreating an animal.

The hospital said apart from the letter from prosecutors informing it about the animal cruelty conviction and questioning the alleged gunman’s fitness to become a doctor, “we did not receive any other signals that the perpetrator was dangerous or should be denied access” to the hospital.

The shooting at the hospital briefly sparked panic as heavily armed police combed the building hunting for the gunman. Video showed at least one patient wheeled outside in a bed. The hospital said that video circulating on social media of staff apparently running into the street actually showed a resuscitation team on their way to the building where the teacher was shot.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the progress of their investigation Friday. The suspect is expected to be arraigned early next week.

“We see his deed as a targeted action,” police chief Fred Westerbeke said Thursday night. “But we need to investigate how and why.” He said the suspect was a student at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University.

Neighbors and well-wishers laid flowers Friday morning outside the woman’s apartment and at the hospital. Police set up black screens around the fire-scarred apartment building where the woman and her daughter were killed.

“It’s a combination: Anger is pushing back my grief. If the anger subsides, I would be more sad,” said Ronald Toetenel.

“I know these people. We lived together very happily. She was a very nice woman. The children were also fantastic. My daughter grew up with them a bit. That something like this could happen …” he added, his voice trailing off.

Mass shootings are rare in the Netherlands. In 2019, a radicalized Muslim gunman killed four people in an attack on a tram in the city of Utrecht. He was convicted of murder with a terrorist motive.

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Associated Press writer Mike Corder contributed from The Hague, Netherlands.

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