Moscow school shooter brings an all-too-American tragedy to Russia

Russians are struggling to come to terms with a school shooting that killed two adults, in what might be the first such attack in the country.

Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
Police officers evacuate children from a Moscow school today after an armed teenager burst into the building and killed a teacher and policeman before being taken into custody. None of the children who were in the school were hurt.

A teacher and a policeman are dead after a Moscow high school student wielding a hunting rifle went on what some Russians are calling the first-ever "American-style" shooting spree in Russia, and held a class of 29 fellow students hostage for half an hour before being persuaded by his father to give himself up.

The youth entered Moscow public school No. 263 around midday, carrying a rifle that was legally owned by his father, went to his classroom, and shot dead his geography teacher, Andrei Kirillov. He then fired at least 11 times through the classroom door at police who'd been summoned by the school's security guard, killing one and injuring another, according to a statement posted by the Kremlin's Investigative Committee, Russia's top police body. 

Other reports describe the young man, who's been identified as Sergei Gordeyev, as a hard-driving straight-A student who may have had "some sort of nervous breakdown" over schoolwork.

The online tabloid reported that the student may have had a conflict with Mr. Kirillov over an exam grade that jeopardized his prospects of winning a "gold medal" prize at the end of his studies (the equivalent of summa cum laude). "[Gordeyev] was an unstable person. Sure, he was a good student," Lifenews quoted a former classmate as saying. "He rarely talked to people. We never even met him on the street. Only at school."

The standoff ended when Gordeyev's father arrived, wearing a bulletproof vest, talked to his son by telephone and later entered the classroom to persuade him to surrender to police. The Investigative Committee noted tersely that a "criminal investigation" has been launched.

Russian news organizations are giving wall-to-wall, Western-style coverage to the event, which is perhaps the first tragedy of this kind ever to hit Russia. 

It's not that Russia hasn't seen worse horrors in the past, including a terrorist school siege in Beslan almost a decade ago that left 330 people dead, half of them children, after Russian special stormed the building.

But experts say this appears to be the first time a troubled loner, carrying a gun, has brought the kind of mayhem to his own school that seems to happen all-too-often in the US. Up to today, recurring news reports on outbreaks of violence in American schools met not only with horror, but also with relief that Russia has so far escaped this tragic phenomenon, through stricter gun laws, better parenting, tougher school security, or some other factors. Today's events showed that this "God-forbid" scenario could become a reality. 

"There have been lots of times when children had conflicts at school and fights started, but this is the first time a psychological breakdown has led to casualties like this," says Irina Stoik, a former Moscow school teacher. "I mean, we've always known this kind of thing happens in the US. Now I guess you can say it's a universal phenomenon."

Russia bans civilian ownership of handguns outright, and even makes it extremely difficult to obtain a simple hunting rifle of the type Gordeyev brought into his school Monday. Ironically, the State Duma toughened the country's gun control laws barely a year ago after Russians were shocked by news of the Newtown shooting in the US.

That discussion seems likely to intensify as Russians come to terms with what happened at School 263 today.

"Russia isn't isolated from the world," says Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of Panorama, and independent Moscow think tank.

"We never had a case like this before, but it's probably not coincidental that this happened," he says. "There is plenty of violence [in Russian society] and it's quite possible this youth saw lots of similar situations on TV, movies and the Internet. And the US does serve as an example, you know? Even if the mass media portray such events in a negative light, there is still a 'propaganda of the American way of life' that comes through," he says.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to