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CRIME

Fire chief in Lower Austria confirmed as arsonist

The fire chief of Wolfsbach in Lower Austria has admitted to starting seven separate fires that amounted to €80,000 in damages.

Fire chief in Lower Austria confirmed as arsonist
Photo: Wolfsbach Feuerkommandant

He has since been arrested and banned from the fire department. 

According to police, a series of fires which began in mid-July have been under investigation due to their suspicious nature and a link to the local fire chief. The latest incident took place as recently as September 24th. 

It all began with a wood chip heating system, then a barn and some rubbish bins went up in flames. A garden shed was burnt two weeks later, followed by some outdoor furniture and a patio door which caught fire directly within the fire chief’s home.

He and his current partner had to be briefly hospitalised for smoke inhalation after the incident in his house. 

Despite the fact that the 37-year-old fire chief admitted to the arson charges, his motive still remains unclear.

The Lower Austrian newspaper NÖN reports that among the possible reasons for his actions are the “accumulated pressure” from his divorce and alimony payments.

He will nevertheless never be able to work as a fireman again. “Whomever commits such inexplicable acts has no place within an organisation that claims 70,000 annual voluntary deployments in the service of humanity”, said Franz Resperger, spokesman for the Lower Austrian fire fighter’s association. 

As the investigation continues, the arsonist will remain in police custody in St. Pölten. 

CRIME

EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

Following the suicide of an Austrian doctor who received threats from Covid-19 anti-vaccination activists, the government has now launched a new campaign to help victims of online abuse.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

The Austrian medical community was left in shock in July when Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, a local doctor in Seewalchen am Attersee in Upper Austria, took her own life following months of online abuse.

Kellermayr, 36, had been targeted by anti-vaccination activists and Covid-19 conspiracy theorists for her out-spoken support of vaccines, and the abuse even included death threats. 

Her death prompted candlelight vigils and demonstrations in Vienna and the tragic story was picked up by news outlets around the world.

READ MORE: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

This led to calls for tighter laws against online bullying and the ability for perpetrators to be prosecuted in other EU countries – particularly as at least two of the people who are believed to have targeted Kellermayr are based in Germany, according to the Guardian.

The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has even called for the creation of a special public prosecutor’s office to deal with “hate-on-the-net”, but this has been rejected by prosecutors and other political parties, as reported by ORF.

Instead, the Federal Justice Department has launched a new information campaign, website and hotline to help people dealing with online abuse.

FOR MEMBERS: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

What is in the new campaign?

Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) said they have launched the campaign to raise awareness about the issue and to inform victims about the support available.

Zadic said: “It is important to me that those affected know that they are not alone in this situation and that the judiciary supports them with free psychological and legal process support.”

“You don’t have to cope alone with the extraordinary burdens that criminal proceedings can entail, for example through confrontation with the perpetrators.”

READ ALSO: Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Part of the support package is the new website Hilfe bei Gewalt (Help with Violence), which details how to access help from the authorities, as well as secure free legal advice and representation from a lawyer.

The website states the service is for victims of bullying and/or hate online, defamation, stalking, terrorism, incitement, sexual violence and robbery.

The service is designed to be anonymous with options to contact the Justice Department by phone or via a chat box. The website also lists contact details for regional support services in all provinces across Austria. 

The free (kostenlos) hotline for Hilfe bei Gewalt is 0800 112 112.

Useful links

Hilfe bei Gewalt

Austrian Federal Justice Department

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