VELIKA, IVANCA SERBIA – A Serbian war veteran on Tuesday went from house to house in his village near Belgrade, shooting dead 13 relatives and neighbors, including his son, mother and a 2-year-old child, police said.
It was the worst such incident in two decades in Serbia, where the government announced that Wednesday would be a national day of mourning.
The 60-year-old, identified by police as Ljubisa Bogdanovic, shot most of his victims in the head as they slept before trying to kill himself and his wife.
Both were seriously wounded along with a third person, who later died in a hospital, Serbian police Chief Milorad Veljovic told reporters at the scene, calling the crime “monstrous.”
He said the victims who died — six men, six women and the child — included Bogdanovic’s mother and his 42-year-old son.
“Twelve people were killed on the spot while the 13th died in a hospital,” Veljovic said.
According to the victims’ neighbors, the murdered child was a boy. Most of the victims were Bogdanovic’s relatives.
The motive for the attack in the village of Velika Ivanca, about 50 km south of Belgrade, was not immediately clear.
Speaking to police from her hospital bed, the gunman’s wife said her husband had a “bad temper” but could not hint at a possible motive for the murders, the Vecernje Novosti daily reported in its online edition.
“I could not dream that he would do this. There have been no hints,” the daily quoted Javorka Bogdanovic as saying. “He had a bad temper, but I did not dream of this. We were all like a big family.”
Doctors from Belgrade’s Emergency Hospital said her condition was “serious but stable,” while her husband was “still in coma,” the newspaper reported.
Bogdanovic went house to house at 5 a.m., methodically shooting his victims in five homes on a hill on the village’s outskirts, police said. The houses are only some 10 meters away from each other.
He is thought to have first killed his son and mother, then wounded his wife, before continuing on his shooting spree and then turning the gun on himself when a police patrol arrived.
Residents of the village of about 1,700 were in shock Tuesday and some wept as they tried to understand the motive for the killings.
Neighbors said Bogdanovic, who fought as a Serb soldier during the 1990s war in Croatia and had a firearms license, lost his job as a laborer last year. He then became a farmer.
“I had a feeling that I was dreaming. When I woke up I saw my mother, killed at the entrance door to the house,” Aleksandar Stekic said.
He was sleeping in another room while his mother was killed and his father was at work.
“I ran to the first neighbor and I saw again a murdered woman at the entrance. . . . I was scared I ran toward my grandmother’s house but I saw another neighbor killed,” the 29-year-old recalled with tears in his eyes.
Police briefly handcuffed him as they first suspected he was the perpetrator.
Despite the tragedy, Stekic described the killer as a “good man.”
“He wouldn’t hurt a fly. . . . I don’t know what has happened.”
Visibly shocked villagers echoed his view saying the gunman was the “best neighbor,” and “hard-working, always ready to help.”
Neighbors said Bogdanovic’s father had committed suicide when he was a child while some of his family members had undergone psychiatric treatment in the past.
The killer’s brother Radmilo Bogdanovic, whose house sits on a hill facing the crime scene, insisted that “nothing could have hinted to this tragedy.”
“I ask myself only one thing: why, why has he done this? How could he do it? How?!” the 62-year-old said, sobbing in the garden of his yellow-brick house strewn with children’s toys.
“He was a picture of honesty, as a child he was fearful. . . . I don’t understand what has happened to him. . . . He was a normal man, something must have broken him,” he said. “The whole village is shocked.”
Radmilo Bogdanovic, his eyes red from crying, remembered that his brother was affected by the events of the 1991-95 war in Croatia in which he took part.
“Whenever I raised the issue, he would always reply, ‘May God save you from living what we went through.’ “