The fairytale backdrop of a historic castle in Germany became the site of a horrific attack when two US women were thrown over the edge of a steep gorge — allegedly by an American man.
The victims, aged 21 and 22, met their attacker while hiking a trail near the famous Neuschwanstein Castle on Wednesday (14 June). According to Bavarian police, the suspect steered the victims to a secluded trail with the intention of sexually assaulting them.
When they fought back, the man pushed them down a steep slope and fled the scene. Emergency services eventually found the women and transported them to the hospital, but the youngest victim died as a result of the serious injuries she sustained as she plunged 164 feet.
German authorities have not released the names of the victims or their attacker but said a 30-year-old American man is now in custody.
He has been charged with attempted murder and sexual offences.
Here’s what we know so far:
On Wednesday afternoon, the two American women were on a hiking trail east of the Marienbrücke Bridge, an attraction just an hour’s drive from Munich that is popular among visitors for its sweeping views of the Neuschwanstein Castle.
They met a man and joined him along the trail just moments before the tragedy unfolded.
“The man then steered the two under a pretext to a trail that was difficult to see, which leads to a viewpoint,” Bavarian police said in a statement. “According to the current state of knowledge, an attempted sexual offence to the detriment of the 21-year-old must be assumed.”
Once out of sight, the 30-year-old assailant reportedly tried to attack the women, going after the younger woman first, prompting the 22-year-old to try and defend her, police said.
“The younger of the two women was attacked by the suspect,” police spokesman Holger Stabik told the AP. “The older one tried to rush to her aid, was then choked by the suspect and subsequently pushed down a slope.”
After that, the man made an attempted sexual offence on the 21-year-old and pushed her over the ledge as well. She fell nearly 164ft and landed next to her friend.
How were they rescued?
The two women were rescued by the Füssen mountain rescue service. It is unclear, however, how much time passed between the attack and their rescue, or who alerted emergency services of the assault.
Due to the harsh terrain around the gorge, specially trained members of the Alpine Task Force were involved in the attempted rescue of both women.
The 22-year-old remained conscious and was taken to a hospital, while her 21-year-old friend was airlifted to a different hospital in serious condition.
The younger woman succumbed to her injuries on Thursday night.
Witness Eric Abneri, a recent business graduate from the University of Pittsburgh who witnessed the incident, said he and friends arrived at the scenic overlook as a helicopter arrived and they saw rescuers lower themselves down to the victims.
“I’m honestly absolutely stunned someone is still alive from this. It is like falling from the top of an absolute cliff,” he said.
Mr Abneri described it as “a very, very difficult rescue because of those cliffs and because the helicopter came mere feet above the tree line at the top of the hill.”
“They did an unbelievable job,” he said.
Suspect arrested after massive search
The suspect was caught after a massive police operation involving 25 emergency vehicles, K-9 units and a helicopter search on Wednesday afternoon.
The American suspect is in a German correctional facility, as officials investigate the attack as a potential sexual offence, murder, and attempted murder.
“The allegation is not yet established,” prosecutor Thomas Hörmann told DW.
Kempten criminal police are leading the investigation, and are asking those with knowledge of the incident to get in contact with them.
German prosecutors will not consider extradition for the man, according to the German outlet Rheinische Post.
However, if he is convicted, a later transfer for the execution of the sentence is possible, a spokesperson for the local public prosecutor’s office said.
Kempten authorities have asked witnesses who may have footage or pictures of the moments leading up to the attack and the incident itself to forward them to the department. Police have already reviewed more than a dozen videos but believe there is more material that will be submitted in the following days.
“We hope that this will further clarify the situation before and after the crime,” a police spokesman said.
Investigators are now trying to reconstruct the timeline of the crime. They are searching for evidence in the specific trails where the attack is believed to have happened, but the Marienbrücke Bridge and the majority of its surroundings have been reopened to the public.
Who are the victims?
Officials haven’t released the names of those involved in the incident.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the US Embassy did not confirm or deny whether those involved in the attack are Americans.
“The U.S. Consulate in Munich is monitoring the situation closely and is in contact with authorities. Due to privacy considerations, we are unable to comment further at this time,” officials told The Daily Beast.
The 22-year-old woman, who has bruises and a laceration to the head, is still recovering at the hospital.
“We cannot say when she will be released,” local prosecutor Thomas Hörmann told radio programme Bayerischer Rundfunk.
Who is the alleged attacker?
Bavarian police said the attacker was a 30-year-old US national, DW reports.
The man appeared before a judge at the Kempten District Court, but did not comment on a motive behind the attack.
It is unclear how long he had been in Germany, but he has been described by local authorities as a tourist.
Bystander video posted online showed police leading away a handcuffed, bearded man in a T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap.
What is the Neuschwanstein Castle?
Neuschwanstein castle, nestled near the Austrian border, was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, with construction beginning in 1869.
The towering estate is one of Germany‘s most popular tourist attractions and is said to have been the inspiration for various Disney castles.
According to the Rheinische Post, almost one and a half million tourists visit the attraction every year. The Bavarian Palace Administration reports that on average, 6,000 visit the castle every day during the summer.
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