HAMBURG, GERMANY: As more information emerges about the Hamburg shooter, we are beginning to create a picture of the individual who shot and killed 7 fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses¹ before turning the gun on himself. Here is what we know thus far.
Written by Jason Wynne, first published March 11, 2023, 4:30 pm. Updated March 12, 2023, 12:00 pm.
The Hamburg shooter has not yet been formally named, due to Germany’s privacy laws. However, AvoidJW has learned that his name is Philipp Fusz. He was 35 years old at the time of the shooting. He was born on 18 September 1987 in Memmingen but grew up in nearby Kempten, both towns being West and Southwest of Munich, respectively.
Fusz was educated in Munich. He held a Bachelor’s Degree (BA Hons) in International Business Communication and a Masters (MSc) in Business Administration. Higher level education is not common within the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ community. It’s openly discouraged. Instead, members are asked to seek out a trade or focus on a career in pioneering (full-time preaching) that can be supported by menial work such as window-cleaning or some similar job that requires little or no education.
In his private life, Fusz liked “to be active and multicultural, preferably in a sunny environment close to the water.” He was a Liverpool Football Club supporter and saw them play live for the first time in 2007 at Anfield Road in England.
Fusz wrote a 300 page book entitled, The Truth About God, Jesus Christ and Satan: A New Reflected View of Epochal Dimensions, that he self-published on Amazon (it was removed on March 10, 2023). It was written in English and he intended to translate it into Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), French, Portuguese, and Spanish. In the foreword, he thanked his “angelic fans” along with his grandparents, parents and brother. He claimed that he had “prophetic dreams” in childhood. “Suddenly there was an understanding of the Scriptures that wasn’t there before”, he wrote. Talking about himself in the third person, he said, “The author went through a personal journey through hell that lasted more than three years.”
On his own website (which was taken offline on March 11, 2023), he described himself as being brought up “in a strict evangelical household”. We know that his parents, brother and grandparents are all Jehovah’s Witnesses, so it’s fair to say that he is referring to his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing. The website made use of biblical references that most Jehovah’s Witnesses would be familiar with. For example, in a post entitled, Things to Remember During a Financial Crisis, he says, “… we often forget that God is always there to help us… “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear” – Psalm 46:1-2 (NIV)”. (emphasis mine)
Interestingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses in their “Breaking News” feature regarding this very event, entitled Shooting at Kingdom Hall in Hamburg, Germany, made use of the very same verse to provide comfort to their readers. The anonymous writer wrote, “We are confident that Jehovah, the God of peace, will continue to be a refuge and strength in this time of distress – Psalm 9:9; 46:1“. (emphasis mine)
It’s quite evident where the Hamburg shooter discovered his interest and love for Bible quotations.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses are accustomed to the repeated use of bible verses and religious references in their everyday lives, those not familiar with their beliefs would find this very strange and quite striking. Fusz was quite generous in his fundamentalist views writing, among other things, “Remember that this world and all things, including our finances and values, belong to God” and “There is no reason to worry about the future … Instead, believe in God’s will and Jesus Christ, as Philipp Fusz has been doing for years.”
Fusz’s book is a mix of theological exegesis mixed with his own educational background involving business management. He says, “It is an excellent book to deepen your interest in God and humanity. It can also be cumulative for all persons who hold a position or leading role in the economy and other earthly and religious programs.”
It’s quite possible that Fusz suffered from megalomania. He saw himself as much more important and powerful than he really was. He saw his book as an epochal work that is required reading for leaders and various sciences. He also demanded a daily rate of €250’000 as a management consultant, excluding tax. As he said himself, “The fee incorporates the fact, that my work should generate you a leverage or value added of at least 2.5 Million Euro.”
Experts who have reviewed Fusz’s book say that it is the work of a Christian extremist. In it he praises Hitler and Putin. He considered Hitler to be a human instrument of Christ for his 1000-year rulership. This belief stems from Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology regarding a post-Armageddon Judgment Day which will last for 1000 years under Jesus’ rule. He claimed that Hitler had his idea of a “thousand-year Reich” from Jesus and that Hitler wanted to implement it for Christ.
Elsewhere in the book he claims that Hitler and Putin had God’s favor. He saw Putin as a Statesman who publicly stands up for God’s values. It’s not hard to fathom why Jehovah’s Witnesses’ would take exception to this belief. After all, they see Putin’s Russia as the King of the North, a reference they derive from their interpretation of the Bible book of Daniel chapters 11 and 12. Furthermore, Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently banned in Russia, with many of their members facing imprisonment, fines, or both.
During the Hamburg Police Press Conference on Friday, March 10, 2023, Michael Tsifidaris, claiming to be a spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hamburg, made the following comments:
“I speak for the 4’000 Jehovah’s Witnesses here in Altenheim, Hamburg, and for the congregation affected. As you can imagine, we are horrified and our prayers and our sympathy is with the victims. Together with your officers, we worked together through the night. Thank you very much for your professional support. We would also like to thank you very much for your decisive actions which prevented worse from happening.
“Perhaps a small correction regarding the number and the congregation. It was an official gathering. 36 people were present according to what we know. And another 25 were present online. The 36 present were traumatized, as you can imagine. And we work together with Emergency Services of the fire department and [with] workers from the city of Hamburg in order to provide care for the victims, for the relatives, and we will continue to provide further pastoral care according to what we know.
“The suspected perpetrator named was not somebody who was excluded from the congregation, as we hear from the Winterhude congregation. He left the congregation on his own accord.”
There are conflicting stories about whether the Hamburg shooter was disfellowshipped or disassociated from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not that it really matters how he was expelled from the religious group because the end result is the same. Disfellowshipping is when a person has been expelled by the elders and the religious group is put on notice to shun the “unrepentant wrongdoer” by way of a brief announcement at their midweek meeting.
Disassociation, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. In some cases, disassociation is when a member informs their congregation that they no longer wants to be known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In three additional but very specific instances, it is where the elders determine the person no longer wants to be a Jehovah’s Witness by way of their actions: they “willingly and unrepentantly accept a blood transfusion”; they violate their “Christian neutrality”, such as joining the armed forces or voting in political elections; or they join and remain with another religious organization. Of these three latter situations, the person has no say in the decision made by the congregation elders. Once the brief announcement is made to the congregation in the same way as the disfellowshipping announcement is made, the congregation is put on notice to shun the “unrepentant wrongdoer”.
In view of the foregoing, it is worth considering the words of Michael Tsifidaris, regional representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses for Hamburg and surrounding federal states. He told journalists that Fusz’s departure from Jehovah’s Witnesses was “a personal decision”. Apparently Philipp Fusz had left the Jehovah’s Witnesses 18 months before the shooting. Whether this was done in writing, orally, or without statement, we do not know. And whether it was really his decision to leave the group willingly and peacefully is open to debate considering his actions on Thursday night, March 9, 2023.
Thursdays was a typical worship night for a typical congregation of some 60+ Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hamburg. They would meet at the Kingdom Hall on Deelböge Street at 7 pm. They’d enjoy their religious service for upwards of 90 minutes, would linger on afterwards to catch up with friends and family. But this wasn’t a normal Thursday night.
At 8:45 p.m. the meeting ended. And the live stream, for those who would attend online, was switched off. Shortly afterwards, a woman leaves the kingdom hall and gets into her car in front of the building. Philipp Fusz shoots her. Officials counted ten bullet holes in her car. Fortunately, she escapes with minor injuries and alerts the police.
Meanwhile, Philip shoots out a window of the kingdom hall building. He enters and starts shooting at the 35² guests inside. He kills seven persons: four men & two women (ages 33 and 60), and an unborn child. (28 weeks) Eight others are injured; three (ages 22, 38 & 45) have suffered life-threating injuries; four others (ages 22, 26, 32 & 36), which includes the mother of the unborn child, have sustained serious injuries; and one man (32) received minor injuries. They are all German nationals. The police are on the scene almost immediately. The shooter flees upstairs. The police follow him. When they arrive, Fusz has already shot himself dead, and the handgun, a Heckler & Koch P30, is lying on the floor beside him.
Looking at video footage that an eyewitness recording, the police originally believed that there were two shooters. After further examination, they realised that the second shooter was Fusz’s shadow cast against the building.
Fusz had fired a total of 135 rounds. In a search of his home on Friday, the police found 15 loaded magazines and 200 more rounds of ammunition.
A month prior to the shooting, an anonymous letter was sent to the police warning them about the gunman. In it, the writer asked for a review of Fusz’s behavior, his mental health, his “ill-feelings” towards Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the weapons regulations. The letter also explained that Philipp Fusz may be suffering from a mental illness despite not being medically diagnosed.
Upon receipt of the letter, the police arrive at Fusz’s home unannounced. Hamburg Police Chief Ralf Martin Meyer said when officers arrived at his house in February, the suspect cooperated and had an open conversation with the police who found no grounds to take away his firearm. “The bottom line is that an anonymous tip in which someone says they’re worried a person might have a psychological illness, isn’t in itself a basis for measures”, said Chief Meyer.
May it have been congregation elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses who wrote that letter? It’s not unusual for elders to be directed by the branch to contact authorities about certain former members if they pose a risk to the general public. However, congregation elders are also directed not to reveal their personal identity, their religious identity, or their religious position, unless legally required to do so. In this situation, there would have been no legal basis for them to reveal personal identifying information. It’s quite possible this anonymous letter was sent by congregation elders, or other persons within the Jehovah’s Witnesses who knew Fusz’s current mental state.
Additionally, was Fusz’s deterioration in mental health exacerbated by the intense shunning Jehovah’s Witnesses enforce against former members, and especially towards those they identify as “disgruntled former members”?
This isn’t the first time that those shunned by Jehovah’s Witnesses have reacted violently towards members of the group. In 2002, a former member killed his wife and children and then fled to Mexico. He is currently in jail on death row. In 2013, a man sexually assaulted and killed a 21 year-old Jehovah’s Witness female. In 2018, a former member shot her husband and two adult children before turning the gun on herself. In 2022, a former member entered a kingdom hall, shot his wife before killing himself.
Religiously enforced, and sustained shunning over a long period of time has an unpredictable effect on its victims. It needs to end.
¹ Once a person is baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness, this identifies them as a member. In Jehovah’s Witnesses’ theology, a person’s dedication and baptism cannot be revoked. While a person can be expelled, their status as a member changes, but their identity does not. See The Watchtower – Study Edition, April 2017, p. 6, par. 13.
² There were 36 persons in attendance at the Kingdom Hall and 25 persons online for the service, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses Spokesperson, Michael Tsifidaris. 35 persons were remaining in the Kingdom Hall when the alleged shooter entered.
While comments are welcome on this subject, please be mindful that this is a very sensitive and delicate matter. Treat all those affected by the crime with the respect they deserve at this very sad time. Insensitive or inflammatory comments will not be tolerated.