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Mystery of missing teenager found in suspected paedophile’s cupboard grips Germany

The case of a missing 15-year-old boy found in a closet at the flat of a suspected paedophile has gripped Germany – but the boy's mother says she just wants to celebrate Christmas with her son.

Mystery of missing teenager found in suspected paedophile's cupboard grips Germany
The house in Recklinghausen where the boy was found. Photo: DPA

Marvin had been missing for over two years when he was found hiding in a cupboard last Friday as police searched the home of a 44-year-old man suspected of distributing child pornography.

The shocking discovery in the western town of Recklinghausen, north of Dortmund, has drawn comparisons to two shocking cases in Austria – of Natascha Kampusch, who was held by her kidnapper for eight years before she managed to escape in 2006; and of Elisabeth Fritzl, who was kept in a cellar and repeatedly raped by her father Josef in an ordeal that lasted 24 years.

Marvin, who disappeared after saying goodbye to his carers at a youth shelter early on June 11th, 2017, is currently in psychiatric care.

“I want to visit him for Christmas, to celebrate a little with him,” his mother Manuela B., 53, told Germany's best-selling tabloid Bild.

A police spokesman on Monday said the decision on when Marvin can go home “is up to the doctors, not the police”.

Many questions remain answered in the case that German media have dubbed an “Advent miracle” – including how the boy ended up at the flat and if he could have left at any time.

The 44-year-old suspect at whose flat Marvin was found has been arrested and charged with a serious sexual offence.

Prosecutors in Bochum on Monday said the man already had a 2018 conviction for possessing child pornography but was only given a ten-month suspended sentence.

The boy was already staying with the man at that point as he is understood to have lived at the flat for “at least two years”, chief prosecutor Christian Kuhnert told DPA news agency.

What exactly happened in the first months after the child's disappearance “is still being looked into”, he added.

TV appeal

Police said in a statement that the officers who discovered him “did not see any indications at that point that he was being held against his will”.

But Marvin's mother, who was briefly reunited with her son on Friday, doubted he was there entirely out of free will.

Photo: DPA

“The man whose place they found him at must have manipulated him,” she told Bild.

“I could go crazy thinking about what's been done to him.”

She said Marvin was found wearing the same clothes as on the day he vanished, and said he looked like “a broken old man”.

“He now needs to process what's happened over the past two and a half years. This is all so painful.”

His stepfather Michael B. told the RTL broadcaster he believed the boy hadn't stayed at the flat voluntarily, adding that Marvin “didn't talk much” when he saw his mother.

Marvin was 13 when he was living in a care home for young people, reportedly after he had trouble processing the death of his father.

After the investigation into his disappearance had gone cold, Marvin's mother and sister made a fresh appeal for information in the TV show “Aktenzeichen XY” in July, which tries to solve missing cases.

But in the end the boy's discovery appeared to be entirely coincidental.

Marvin's mother told Bild she already knows what she will give her son for Christmas.

“I want to give him new clothes.”

Michelle Fitzpatrick

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POLICE

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Germany is known for having some of the world’s strictest gun laws, but shooting incidents continue to cause concern.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Is it difficult to get a gun in Germany?

To get a gun in Germany you firstly have to obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).

Applicants for a license must be at least 18-years-old and undergo what’s called a reliability check. This includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have a mental illness or any other attributes that might make them owning a gun a potential concern for authorities.

They also have to pass a “specialised knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Crucially, applicants must also prove a specific and approved “need“ for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.

Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for everyone, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

A revolver lies on an application for the issuance of a firearms license. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

How many legal guns are there in Germany? 

According to the latest figures from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as of May 31st, 2022, there were 5.018,963 registered guns in Germany, and 946,546 gun owners entered in the National Weapons Register (NWR).

Where are the most guns in Germany?

Most legal guns are found in rural areas and are used in hunting or shooting sports. Guns are also more widespread in the western States than in the states that make up the former East Germany, where private gun ownership was extremely limited. 

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

What about undocumented guns in Germany?

One problem in Germany is so-called ‘old’ weapons. It’s impossible to estimate how many weapons from the two world wars are still in circulation and such antiques have appeared in a number of high-profile incidents in the last few years.

The pistol hidden in a Vienna airport by Bundeswehr officer Franco A was a Unique pistol from 1917 and the 2007 murder of a police officer in Heilbronn involved a Wehrmacht pistol. 

In 2009, around 200,000 weapons were returned in a gun amnesty, but it is still unclear how many illegal weapons are still out there.

Does Germany have a gun violence problem?

Gun crime is relatively rare in Germany, which has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and, according to the latest figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), gun-related crimes in Germany are decreasing.

In 2021, there were 9.8 percent fewer crimes committed with a firearm than the previous year, while the number of cases recorded by the police in which a firearm was used to threaten fell by 11.2 percent. Shots were fired in 4,074 of the total number of recorded cases, down 8.5 percent from 2021.

An armored weapons cabinet filled with long guns. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Friso Gentsch

Despite this, there have been several mass shootings within the past two decades, which have had a big impact on public consciousness and on gun control policy. 

Between 2002 and 2009 there were three major incidents of young men carrying out shootings at their former high schools and, in 2020, a racially motivated gunman shot and killed 11 people and injured numerous others in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau. The perpetrator was allowed to legally possess firearms, although he had previously sent letters with right-wing extremist content to authorities.

Recently there were also shootings at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany and at a supermarket in Schwalmstadt in Hesse.

Are German gun laws about to change?

The German parliament reacted to the mass shooting incidents in the early 2000s by tightening the gun laws, and, in the wake of the Hanau attack, a new amendment is in the works, which aims to shift focus towards monitoring gun owners with extremist, right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Germany marks a year since deadly racist shooting in Hanau

In December 2021, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced her intention to further tighten gun laws, as part of a plan to tackle right-wing extremism.

The authorities in charge of the protection of the constitution have been warning for some time that neo-Nazis are deliberately joining shooting clubs to obtain guns and the Federal Ministry of the Interior reports that 1.500 suspected right-wing extremists among legal gun owners.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to stop gun crime. 

Dagmar Ellerbrock, a historian and expert on weapons history at the Technical University of Dresden said: “It is high time that we try to at least make it more difficult for these political groups to find their way through the shooting associations.”

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