The Communication Skills lecture on the fifth floor of the Gk building had been under way for about an hour when, at about 2.30pm, Sam heard strange noises coming from the floor below. “We had no idea that it was gunshots. It sounded as though a cupboard had fallen over, and then as if someone had fallen to the ground.”

The names of medical students Sam and Anne are fictitious because they prefer not to be approached personally about this story.

The building, which is not used by patients but rather houses facility services and a number of classrooms, is mainly used for teaching practical skills, where students practise treatments on each other. “We thought that maybe someone had fainted. Then we also smelt fire.” Sam assumed afterwards that this smell had come from Delfshaven, where the suspect had previously set fire to a house and shot dead his neighbour and her daughter.

“We just went to see what was happening”, says Sam. “We met another lecturer in the corridor who already knew about the shooting.” Naturally, the class was stopped immediately and everyone had to go outside. “At that time, we still thought it might be an underworld assassination or something like that, but not a lecturer in our building. Outside we were immediately spoken to by police officers, who wanted to know what we’d seen and heard. It was only then that we realised that we were talking about a lecturer and that completely changed the mood. It made everything far more scary.”

‘Not under control’

At the same time, medical student Saad was at a bake sale in the learning centre for the victims of the flooding in Libya, organised by student association Avicenna, . While there, he was called by a friend who could see students running out of the Gk building. “I ran over to check that students who I knew were okay.” In the meantime, the building had been sealed off. One of the emergency assistance providers said that the gunman was still on the loose. “The situation did not seem to be under control – not only because the gunman was still at large, but also because a crowd had formed at the scene of the crime. People were not being sent away in a coordinated manner.”

He quickly made his way back to the learning centre, where he found a member of staff and a group of students. Saad suggested that they clear the area. “I had the feeling that I wasn’t really being taken seriously, because the reaction was that we shouldn’t cause a panic. I started to doubt myself: perhaps I was exaggerating the situation and the gunman would quickly be caught.”

Initial reports

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Medical intern Anne was sitting in the large lecture hall of the learning centre when the initial reports began to trickle in that something was going on in the Gk building. “A friend of mine sent me a WhatsApp saying that there were loads of police officers and firefighters on Rochussenstraat.” Shortly after that, fellow students heard that a lecturer had been injured, so the lecture had been suspended. The ophthalmologist who was giving the lecture said that everyone who felt unsafe could leave.

The initial rumours around the victim appeared in Sam’s WhatsApp. A screenshot of the LinkedIn profile of lecturer Jurgen Damen was being circulated, together with the words that the suspect is said to have shouted: “The time has come!” The group Sam was in was directed by the police to a lecture hall in the learning centre, which would be a safe place for the group to say what they had seen and heard.

Panic strikes again

While Sam and his fellow students were making their way towards the main building, where the learning centre is located, panic struck again. “Police officers with helmets, cameras and large guns (the Special Interventions Service, ed.) were rushing towards us, shouting at us to get out of the area. So everyone ran in all directions, some towards Erasmus MC, others towards the city, or into one of the shops in the plinth of the building. I ran into a vaccination room. We tried to lock the door from the inside, but it didn’t have a lock. Inside, children were crying. That was the scariest moment.”

At about the same time, the whole of the learning centre was evacuated and Anne had to leave her lecture hall. She takes up the story: “When we tried to get into the atrium of the hospital from the learning centre, we found we couldn’t go any further.” According to security guards, it was not safe outside the hospital.

‘As I ran in that direction, I heard screaming behind me and I saw a girl running away from the second floor’


While they waited to see how they should proceed, chaos broke out here as well. ‘There was a rumour that the gunman had come into the atrium, so everyone was trying to get away from the staircases. I ran into the learning centre and thought: if I can’t get out, I’ll go to the toilet. As I ran in that direction, I heard screaming behind me and I saw a girl running away from the second floor. Behind her stood a man with a glowing object in his hand.” According to Anne, the man was totally calm. But all the calmness disappeared from the learning centre when he threw the object to the floor with force.

Scene from a horror movie

The object turned out to be a Molotov cocktail, which shattered with a loud bang and caused a fire about thirty metres away from Anne. “All I could think was: this can’t be real, this is a movie or one of those escape rooms where they replicate a scene from a horror movie.” Everyone ran off, mainly towards the terrace at the back of the learning centre that looks onto Westzeedijk. “I looked for familiar faces, but I didn’t recognise anyone.” Anne saw most people running towards a corner of the terrace, but that was a dead end that you couldn’t get out of.

In the meantime, a friend called and she told her what was going on. “She remarked on how calm I was. I must have been in shock.” With her friend still on the phone, Anne sprinted to the other side of the terrace, where there are stairs to the underground car park. That is how she managed to get away, after which she was taken into the protection of the riot police at the exit onto Westzeedijk.

Footsteps outside the toilet

‘We had accepted that we were going to die. I had prepared myself to defend us’


When Saad was standing just outside the learning centre, everyone was called away for reasons unknown to him. About a minute later, the Molotov cocktail was thrown. “People started to scream and run. A fellow student and I were too far away from the emergency exit, so we rushed into the accessible toilet.” In the end, they hid there for three quarters of an hour. He had someone from the emergency number, 112, on the line the whole time.

During those terrifying minutes in the toilet, the two students heard three loud bangs. They feared that it was a school shooting. The smoke from the fire became increasingly thick and they heard footsteps just outside the toilet. “In the meantime, we had read rumours that there were probably several gunmen, so I thought that the footsteps were from one of them. This was also because the woman who I had on the line said that the police would make themselves known.”

At that time, the two students thought they were going to die. “We both said our final prayers at that time – we are both Muslims. We had accepted that we were going to die”, he says. “I had prepared myself to defend us if he had come in.”

Rumour mill

In the meantime, the WhatsApp rumour mill was in full swing. Medical students are in all kinds of WhatsApp groups together and the wildest stories were doing the rounds. Initially Sam received the (incorrect) description of a tall, 21-year old student who had got angry with a lecturer. Anne read that there was a bomb scare in the Sophia Children’s Hospital (there was not) and also that there were three perpetrators (there was only one).

Then Sam received the initial reports that something was going on at the faculty. “Pictures were going round via WhatsApp of a fire in the learning centre. It was surreal: the learning centre is our home, the place where you always go to study and that you associate with your future career. And it’s on fire!” Sam later learned that the fire was caused by a Molotov cocktail. “I was quite happy about that in a way, because initially I thought it was a bomb.”

Into each other’s arms

Anne did not see the arrest that would take place subsequently on Westzeedijk. “We carried on running along Westzeedijk, to a friend who lives in the area.” Other students had gathered at her friend’s house and emotions were running wild. “We fell into each other’s arms and burst into tears.”

The gunman never came to the toilet where Saad and his friend were hiding. Instead, they suddenly heard the words ‘police, police’, whereupon they walked out of the toilet very calmly with their hands in the air and were taken outside. “Nobody look after us there. I was disappointed by this, because I still felt unsafe”, says Saad. Until the press conference, he thought that there were several gunmen.


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School shooting

Once it became clear that the perpetrator had been caught and that no other suspects were on the loose, Sam could leave the hospital. “I didn’t go home straight away. You couldn’t anyway, because there was no public transport. A group of us went to someone’s digs.” Together they discussed what had happened to them and gave their emotions free rein. “I don’t think what has happened has fully sunk in yet”, says Sam later. “It’s a kind of US-style school shooting, it feels so surreal.”

Sam knows the lecturer who was killed, Jurgen Damen, from when he covered his class and from the recollections of fellow students. “I know he was a really nice lecturer, who was really close to students and wanted to make them better doctors. It’s dreadful that he’s no longer with us.”

Second home

Saad still hasn’t processed what has happened. “Just after it happened, I often thought: what if someone had come in? What if the smoke had become too thick? But my father said yesterday that ‘what if’ doesn’t exist. I’m really grateful for that. I try to put those questions out of my head now.”

On Friday, Sam stayed at home instead of attending the meeting for students in De Doelen. “I just needed a lie down.” Anne emphasises that the events have had a huge impact on all medical students and staff. “Even people who weren’t there have been hit hard by what has happened. A fire in our precious learning centre is inconceivable for all students. It’s our second home.” She hopes that students will be able to return to the learning centre soon. “As senior-year students, we’ve been asked to look after the more junior ones.” She herself is also trying to think of the hospital as a safe place again as quickly as possible. “I worked again on Sunday. I avoided the atrium at that time, but on Wednesday I’m going there with a friend. We’re going to lay flowers for the lecturer.”

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