In court: “I coughed up pitch-black soot”: Police officer describes high-rise explosion in Ratingen – defendant remains silent

"There's someone in there.

In court: “I coughed up pitch-black soot”: Police officer describes high-rise explosion in Ratingen – defendant remains silent

"There's someone in there. There's someone in there," screams the young policewoman. Recordings from the officers' body cameras will be played in the Düsseldorf district court on Friday. They show the events of May 11th up close on the tenth floor of a high-rise building in Ratingen near Düsseldorf. “He wants to set himself on fire,” shouts her colleague. Then a torrent of liquid comes flying over a stack of beverage crates towards the officers and a fraction of a second later there is a huge fireball.

The 57-year-old Frank P. from Ratingen did not want to commit suicide, he wanted to set the police officers on fire, says prosecutor Laura Neumann. She accused him of nine counts of attempted murder when the trial began on Friday. He tried to kill nine people insidiously, cruelly and with means that were dangerous to the public.

A 30-year-old police officer reports how the operation went. He was the first to enter the apartment at the time. The property management called her. The two residents of the apartment are missing, the mailbox is overflowing, and the tenant's car is unsealed. No one answered the knock and the ringing. They wanted to take a look into the apartment from the neighboring balcony, but the neighbor refused to do so out of fear of Frank P.: "He's crazy," he said.

Then the fire brigade opened the apartment door and a strong smell of decomposition wafted towards them. There was no noise to be heard. “I thought there was no one in there,” the officer reports.

The entrance door was blocked and barricaded; they first had to form a chain and bring crates of drinks outside in order to make a way. He then heard a noise and saw the defendant with a piece of burning textile in his hand. "Then you start to evaluate everything differently. Before, I thought about an extended suicide."

He pulled out his gun and asked the man in the apartment to show his hands. But he didn't react. "I screamed, 'He's trying to set himself on fire,' but then the heat stroke came."

His colleague was completely engulfed in flames. He accompanied her downstairs. His radio was broken. He triggered an alarm in the control center using his private cell phone. He then noticed that he had lost his service weapon and requested a SEK.

"Everything hurt, at some point the pain overwhelms you. I started taking off my clothes and waited for backup. An emergency doctor came to me. I coughed up pitch-black soot. Then it was dark for a long time." After two to three weeks he came to again. It wasn't just the pain of the burns that was bad. "You have to get used to the sight."

Not only the two police officers, but also four firefighters, two paramedics and an emergency doctor were injured, some of them life-threatening.

The German defendant appears in the courtroom wearing a gray sweater and gray pants with wild hair and beard. He appears confident and doesn't hide his face. When the judges enter, he remains seated.

He watches the proceedings carefully, occasionally whispering to his lawyer. There are no signs of remorse or regret in him. When the presiding judge speaks to him, he doesn't react. He also remains silent about the allegations.

The Rating fire department chief René Schubert reports how the alarm levels were increased at the time. Eight rescue helicopters finally arrived to bring the injured to clinics as quickly as possible. Someone came up to him and said: “There is a policewoman in the ambulance who is dying.”

Medical experts reported in detail to the court on Friday about the terrible burns and the psychological consequences of the victims, some of whom were unable to work, and about "extensive loss of the upper layers of skin in the entire facial area."

The defendant is said to have poured several liters of gasoline on police officers, firefighters and emergency services workers and then set them on fire. The gas-air mixture exploded and a fireball injured the emergency services. Several fought for their lives for weeks. The young policewoman was the most seriously injured and was in an induced coma for months.

Special police forces later came across the skeletal body of the 57-year-old's mother in the apartment. The investigation revealed that she had already died several weeks earlier.

The police counted 35 people injured after the explosion, most of whom were treated for suspected smoke inhalation. The public prosecutor's office said eight of the nine victims were expected to suffer permanent damage. The court has scheduled nine days of hearings for the criminal trial until January 11 next year.

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