‘I still can’t believe this’: A night of horror in Vienna’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’
Hofmeister witnessed the attack Monday evening at the busy Bermuda Triangle entertainment quarter, watching from his home near the Seitenstettengasse Temple, the synagogue where he gives religious instruction.
Hofmeister called the police and told them that a gunman was running towards people at a bar, shooting “dozens, maybe hundreds, of rounds.”
“He was running,” Hofmeister said. “He was running back and forth and ran inside the bars and I heard shots being fired inside the bars. And then within the next 15 or 20 minutes, I heard shots from farther away. And as we heard, there were several places of attack.”
Police in Vienna told CNN that it is still unclear if Monday night’s shootings involved a lone gunman or two or more attackers. Authorities there advised parents to keep their children home from school on Tuesday, in case other assailants are on the loose.
An Austrian law enforcement source told journalists on Tuesday that authorities had identified six locations by a stretch of the Danube canal where shootings took place: the streets of Salzgries, Fleischmarkt, Bauernmarkt, Graben, Seitenstettengasse and Morzinplatz.
Jimmy Eroglu, a waiter at Cafe Theo, described how guests sitting at outside tables suddenly rushed into the restaurant as shots rang out.
“I … went to look and asked: ‘What’s going on?’ And they said there’s a shooting, and then I heard for sure at least 15 or 20 shots,” he said, smoking a cigarette Monday night to calm his nerves. He said he had locked the customers inside the cafe until police arrived.
“I still can’t believe this. At the beginning I thought I was somewhere in the US,” he said. “This is something we only see in America, or in Iraq or Afghanistan, but not here in Austria.”
Eroglu, a Turkish Muslim who migrated to Austria when he was four years old, said he wanted to send a message to the world that the attacker did not represent Islam: “Islam isn’t bad. Islam doesn’t tell us to kill anyone — it’s the opposite,” he said.
Two Austrian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters of Turkish descent told journalists that they helped save a police officer and two women during the attack, Reuters and Turkish state-run media Anadolu reported.
Recep Tayyip Gultekin said he came face to face with the attacker as he carried an injured woman to safety. “After I carried the wounded woman to a nearby restaurant, the terrorist pointed his gun at me,” he told Anadolu, adding they also helped an elderly woman find shelter.
His friend, Mikail Ozen, told reporters that the pair helped carry a police offer to an ambulance. “He was lying on the ground and we ran over in zig-zag fashion,” Ozen said, according to Reuters.
Two other police officers had thrown themselves onto the injured officer to protect him and tried to hold the two MMA fighters back, but the men helped carry the injured officer to an ambulance anyway.
“They were shocked, and we were shocked,” Ozen said. “We looked at each other and we just walked over. We did what was necessary.” Ozen also made a call for unity, saying that as an Austrian Muslim, he stood firm with the country.
“I, as a Muslim of Turkish descent, want to say: I live in Austria, I was born in Austria, I went to school in Austria and learned my profession here in Austria,” Ozen said. “If the same thing were to happen again today, I would do the exact same thing without a second thought. Because we live in Austria, we stand with Austria.”
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer referenced “two Austrians with an immigration background” having brought a police officer to safety, though he didn’t mention their names, according to Reuters.
Werner Beninger was having dinner with his wife nearby when he heard a series of shots ring out. He told CNN he initially thought the noises were fireworks. “The shots came closer and then I realized that it was a volley of shots.”
“People fled into the garden of the restaurant, many were nervous,” he said. “Then [special police unit] WEGA came and told us to go to the basement, and there were roughly 50 people, and we waited it out in the basement.”
Beninger said they stayed there until after 1 a.m., when police finally gave them the all-clear to leave the scene.
The bloody attack, in which at least four people were killed and more than 20 injured, took place in the city’s historic first district, an area known for its art nouveau architecture and narrow cobblestone streets lined with fashion boutiques.
The area was busy on Monday night, as friends met for a final drink before Vienna — like the rest of Austria — went into coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday. Unseasonal warmth had also attracted crowds of people to the area, many sitting outside in thin jackets.
Robert Schneider, 39, told CNN he was heading towards the area from his home in the city when he noticed a laser pointing at his chest — he believes it was likely from a weapon belonging to police officers called to the area in response to the attack.
“I was just going to have a meal with friends” he said on Monday night. “All we wanted to do have a meal and some drinks and enjoy the evening. Now we need to have a drink to calm down.”