Candles and flowers are placed in front of the town hall of Bad Reichenhall
Michaela Rehle  /  Reuters
Candles and flowers were placed in front of town hall in Bad Reichenhall, Germany, on Thursday to commemorate the victims of the ice rink tragedy.
updated 1/5/2006 3:12:31 PM ET 2006-01-05T20:12:31

The town where 15 people died in the collapse of a skating rink began mourning in earnest Thursday, laying out a book of condolence and scheduling memorial services for the mostly young victims after the last body was pulled from the rubble.

Local officials scrambled to defuse the rage of residents suspicious the building had been neglected.

The rink’s snow-covered roof collapsed suddenly Monday afternoon, crushing and burying the mostly youthful skaters beneath splintered beams and twisted metal. Twelve children and three adults died, and 18 people were hospitalized.

The last fatality — a 40-year-old woman — was carried from the scene early Thursday morning, allowing hundreds of exhausted rescue workers and trained dogs to begin winding down. All 15 died instantly, said Edith Tutsch-Bauer, head of the nearby Salzburg medical examiner’s office, which conducted the autopsies.

Wolfgang Heitmeier, the distraught mayor of this quiet spa town in the wealthy southern state of Bavaria, said area residents were in the grip of “mourning and deep sadness.” The 15 victims were local residents.

But he said there also was “anger and hate” — much of it directed at him and fellow local leaders — over widely held suspicions that the safety of the structure, built in 1972, had been neglected.

Possible negligence investigated
Police spokesman Hubertus Andrae said officers confiscated 40 piles of documents from the sports hall and city offices as part of prosecutors’ investigation into possible negligent homicide.

Samples of materials from the building were sent to labs for testing, although a report was not expected before April, Andrae said.

Officials laid out a book of condolences in the town hall for residents and visitors to express their sympathies, and there were fresh candles and flowers in the snow around the fountain outside. More than 5,200 people wrote in an Internet condolence book.

“It’s hard to believe what has happened to us, and impossible to imagine the suffering of the families affected,” said Agnes Mayer, 62.

Friction between officials, press
German newspapers have irritated officials trying to counsel the families by publishing first names and pictures of several victims, including a gap-toothed 10-year-old girl who went skating to celebrate a friend’s birthday and two sisters whose parents survived with minor injuries.

Many residents say the fact that the arena’s roof had leaked for years was warning enough that it was deteriorating — and that officials should have found the funds to fix it rather than spending money on new thermal baths and a shopping street popular with tourists.

Image: Collapsed ice rink rescue effort.
Kai Pfaffenbach  /  Reuters
Rescuers search for victims in the collapsed ice skating rink on Wednesday.

“The feeling is that it should not have happened,” said Renate Wagner, 59, who runs a downtown store selling the locally made “Mozart Kugeln” chocolates for which the town is known.

“Some of the money they spent could have put into the rink, which was one of the few places for the kids to go and enjoy themselves,” she said, blinking back tears behind her counter.

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