Commemoration: A year ago: The police murders near Kusel

An icy wind is blowing at the cross on the hill.

Commemoration: A year ago: The police murders near Kusel

An icy wind is blowing at the cross on the hill. The landscape lies snow-covered and peaceful - at the place where a terrible crime happened a year ago: two young police officers were shot dead on duty on a remote road near Kusel in the western Palatinate.

To commemorate her, white angels stand in front of the cross on a stone slab. The figures in the southwest of Rhineland-Palatinate are touching, as is a heart with praying hands and the inscription "The memory remains". It was placed next to purple flowering winter heather and pink fabric roses.

Visitors have left footprints in the snow. This also applies to the larger memorial a few hundred meters away, which was set up in a parking lot. "I know of quite a few who go there," says the mayor of the city of Kusel, Jochen Hartloff (SPD). "You can also see that there are often fresh flowers." In addition to many white angels and flowers, lanterns with candles also flicker here.

To cover up poaching

Flashback: January 31, 2022, just after 4:00 in the morning. At that time, too, it was a night around freezing point, sleet was falling. A parked van seemed suspicious to the police, and they discovered poached deer and roe deer in the hold. A police candidate (24) and a police commissioner (29) were dead within minutes.

Shot in the head by a 39-year-old who wanted to cover up commercial poaching - that's how the district court of Kaiserslautern ruled in November. The Saarlander was sentenced to life imprisonment for two counts of murder. In addition, the court determined the particular gravity of the guilt, so that a release after 15 years in prison is ruled out. The verdict is not yet legally binding. The act had caused nationwide horror.

"We think of her every day"

The pain is particularly great on the anniversary. "These were our employees," says the head of the Kusel Police Inspectorate, Christoph Maurer. "We think of her every day." A memorial on the premises of the department commemorates the victims - in a place where everyone can pass. "We're expressing solidarity with that. We don't want to suppress anything, we don't want to forget anything either, we just want to find a way of dealing with the issue," says Maurer.

The Kusel police will organize a commemoration in their department on the anniversary, says the manager. There will be an official internal police event with State Interior Minister Michael Ebling (SPD) on Tuesday (January 31) at the Rhineland-Palatinate Police University on the Hahn.

According to the police union, the act has raised awareness of the risk of escalation of violence during controls. "Since the crime, our colleagues have once again become aware that they always have to assume the worst and that the worst things can happen," says Sabrina Kunz, state chairwoman of Rhineland-Palatinate. Any routine situation can develop into a violent confrontation.

After the crime, there was no wave of layoffs from the police. "But what we are experiencing is that not only younger but also older colleagues are asking themselves whether they can continue to do police work under these circumstances," says Kunz.

This has nothing to do directly with the murders. "It's more about the fact that you have to put up with a lot in the service and at the same time have to work in parts under very adverse circumstances."

Investigations continue

Even after the conviction of the 39-year-old, investigations against him continue in Saarland - on suspicion of poaching and violations of the weapons law. Prosecutor Ellen Kaas said there were a large number of cases with a crime scene in Saarland, but also in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, for example.

The allegations related primarily to the period from 2021 to January 2022. That was the time when the accused did not have a hunting license or a gun permit. The investigations continued. It is currently not possible to predict when the investigation will be completed, she says.

According to Kaas, further proceedings, mostly against people in the immediate vicinity of the 39-year-old, mainly concern violations of weapons law, but are - according to the latest knowledge - not related to the night of the crime in Kusel. In some of these proceedings, the Saarbrücken public prosecutor's office has already filed an application for a penalty order or brought charges.

The public prosecutor's office in Kaiserslautern announced last year that the details of how the 39-year-old got hold of the murder weapons were the subject of investigations against the wife. It is about the suspicion of negligent homicide and violation of the weapons law. "The investigations have been completed. The public prosecutor's office will inform about their final decision in the course of February," it says now.

In Kusel, the dismay after the violent death of the police officers is still palpable. "Of course it was a shock at the time. It's something that people keep talking about here," says Mayor Hartloff. "You can tell it's present." The fact that the city is now linked to this terrible event shows: "That something like this can also happen here. It can happen anywhere. That's the way of the world."