MOSCOW (AP) — Russian officials said an explosive device killed at least 13 people and injured at least 50 others Wednesday at a vocational college in Crimea and called it a possible terrorist attack.
Yet Russian news media reported that at least some of the victims died in an attack by an unidentified gunman or gunmen. Russian officials wouldn’t confirm those reports.
Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee said the blast at the college in the city of Kerch in eastern Crimea was caused by an unidentified explosive device. Emergency officials initially had said the blast was caused by a gas explosion.
Sergei Melikov, a deputy chief of the Russian National Guard, said the explosive device was homemade. Russia’s Investigative Committee, the nation’s top investigative agency, said the device that went off at the college’s canteen was rigged with shrapnel.
The committee’s spokeswoman, Svetlana Petrenko, said 13 people were killed and about 50 were injured. Most of the victims were students.
Explosives experts were inspecting the college building for other possible bombs, according to Anti-Terrorism Committee spokesman Andrei Przhezdomsky.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that officials are looking into a possible terrorist attack. He did not elaborate. Peskov said Putin has instructed investigators and intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough probe and offered condolences to the families of the victims.
Olga Grebennikova, director of the vocational college in Kerch, told KerchNet TV that men armed with automatic rifles burst into the college and “killed everyone they saw.” She said students and staff were among victims.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper quoted student Semyon Gavrilov, who said he fell asleep during a lecture and woke up to the sound of shooting. He said he looked out and saw a young man with a rifle shooting at people.
“I locked the door, hoping he wouldn’t hear me,” the paper quoted Gavrilov as saying.
He said police arrived about 10 minutes later to evacuate people from the college and he saw dead bodies on the floor and charred walls.
The head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, and Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova headed to the area to coordinate assistance to the injured. Military units were deployed around the college.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that triggered Western sanctions. Russia has also supported separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has left at least 10,000 people dead since 2014.