THIRTEEN people were shot dead, some as they slept in their beds, in a pre-dawn house-to-house rampage by a Serbian war veteran.
Ljubisa Bogdanovic, 60, unleashed the slaughter in the village of Velika Ivanca, 30 miles south-east of capital Belgrade.
He then shot himself and his wife as police closed in. Both remained gravely ill in a Belgrade hospital last night.
Police said they did not know what had led to the carnage, which left six men, six women and a child dead.
It is known Bogdanovic saw action in one of the bloodiest sieges of the Balkan wars. He also lost his job at a wood mill last year.
Yesterday his older brother Radmilo said he was unable to explain what had happened.
“Why did he do it? … I still can’t believe it,” he said sobbing, covering his face with his hands. “He was a model of honesty.” “As a child, he was a frightened little boy. I used to defend him from other children. He couldn’t even slaughter a chicken,” he said.
But he said his brother had changed after serving in the army during a brutal Serb-led offensive against the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar in 1992 – the worst bloodshed during Croatia’s 1991-95 war for independence. “The war had burdened him,” Radmilo said. “He used to tell me: God forbid you live through what I went through … Something must have clicked in his head for him to do this.”
All 12 killed were shot illed between 5am and 5.30am and one person died later in a Belgrade hospital, Serbian police chief Milorad Veljovic said.
“Most of the victims were shot while asleep,” Mr Veljovic said. “The most harrowing scene discovered by police was the dead bodies of a young mother and her two-year-old son.”
Although such mass shootings are relatively rare in Serbia, weapons are readily available, mostly from the 1990s wars in the Balkans. Bogdanovic had a licence for the handgun.
Locals said he first killed his son and his mother before leaving his house and then began shooting his neighbours. They expressed shock, describing Bogdanovic as a nice, quiet man.
“He knocked on the doors and as they were opened he just fired a shot,” said Radovan Radosavljevic. “He was a good neighbour and anyone would open their doors to him. I don’t know what happened.”
“I never saw him angry, ever,” said Milovan Kostadinovic. “He was helping everybody, he had a car and drove us everywhere.”
Neighbours said an entire five-member family was shot dead in one house, including the small boy who Bogdanovic’s cousin.
Mr Kostadinovic said the suspect was confronted by police as he walked towards his house.
“If they didn’t stop him, he would have wiped us all out,” Mr Kostadinovic said, standing in front of his red tile-roofed house. “He shot himself when police stopped him.”
Nada Macura, a Belgrade hospital spokeswoman, said the suspect had no known history of mental illness. Stanica Kostadinovic, the neighbour, said the man’s father had hanged himself when he was a boy and his uncle had had mental illness.
Serbian premier Ivica Dacic said the killings showed the government must pay more attention to gun control. His government held an emergency session and was expected to proclaim a national day of mourning.
Serbia’s last big shooting spree occurred in 2007, when a 39-year-old gunman killed nine people and injured two in the eastern village of Jabukovac.