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Dublin: 6 °C Monday 16 December, 2019

Locals offered money for stories in German crash tragedy town

Sixteen schoolchildren from Haltern lost their lives in Tuesday’s air crash tragedy. Locals say some members of the media have been hugely intrusive.

Germany France Plane Crash Source: AP/Press Association Images

RESIDENTS OF THE town of Haltern am See have been offered money by members of the media in return for interviews or access to relatives of air crash victims, locals have said.

It emerged in the hours after Tuesday’s Germanwings crash tragedy that sixteen schoolchildren from the town had lost their lives in the disaster.

Joseph Koenig High School in picturesque Haltern – some 80km north of Dusseldorf – was shut down upon hearing the news.

Reports detailed how bereaved students wept and hugged at a makeshift memorial of candles in the aftermath of the revelation to share the pain of losing their friends.

“Yesterday we were many, today we are alone,” a hand-painted sign at the school said.

The teenagers, 14 girls and two boys, were among at least 72 Germans who made up nearly half the disaster’s total death toll of 150.

The students and their two teachers had been on an exchange trip near Barcelona – paying a return visit, after Spanish teenagers came to Haltern in December.

Germany France Plane Crash Candles sit on a paper reading "in silent memory, class 9a/9c" in front of the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium in Haltern Source: AP/Press Association Images

However, the town has also been mobbed by reporters from all over the world over the last few days.

Yesterday, flyers began to appear reading “camera keep away – accept mourning”. They were placed on the cars of photographers and other members of the media, who had been camped out in the small town.

There were also reports of locals being offered money by reporters and producers, keen to secure access to grieving family members.

“Yesterday a friend of mine was driving to the train station. Reporters knocked on her window and asked if she had any stories she wanted to talk to them about,” Eva Lukai, a marketing manager and journalism graduate from Haltern, now living in Dublin, told

They told her they could make it worth her while.

Lukai said she had also been told of incidents where children as young as ten or eleven had been approached by reporters.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s really hard in the town for people at the moment.

“You can’t hide yourself. Of course you want to be there, you want to be in the community because that can be really healing – that can help.

But then you have to look out for the person who is looking for that one next great picture that they can take, that they can put online.”

halt Source: We Love Haltern/Facebook

Haltern resident Basti Grygiel, who organised the flyer protest, said via email:

“Crying students are intercepted whilst leaving the secured school grounds, attempting to get interviews.

We have confirmation that money was offered in exchange for information, lists of names, pictures and videos from within the school or recordings of the private life from the deceased.

“National and international press seem to behave in the same manner. The main goal remains the perfect story and the money that comes with it.

“Obviously there are many members of the press that do value boundaries, especially the local media is respectful.”

German media

A Facebook page is being used to help co-ordinate memorials, and to allow people to share their grief away from the glare of the camera.

fb Source: We Love Haltern/Facebook

“We want to stand united against this behaviour, we give out flyers and we talk to the reporters directly. So far we are successful,” Grygiel said.

“There are some reports in the media about our initiative and some of the reporters help spread our message.”

Notices appealing for the media to allow residents to go about their business in peace – without having to keep watching over their shoulder for camera-crews or photographers have been placed on the ‘We Love Haltern’ page.

A post this morning said the town was beginning to feel like a “zoo” due to the influx of reporters. Locals are planning more actions, in addition to the flyer hand-outs, to let the media know how oppressive the situation is.

From Grygiel, again:

We want that everyone gets the time they need to deal with this awful event and the painful losses. But this should not happen in front of cameras but among loved ones and friends.

“Please, do report in on the occurrences on board of the plane and the cause, but not about hopeless mothers, fathers, friends and colleagues.”

Read: Germanwings co-pilot believed to have crashed plane deliberately

Read: Crippled with sadness’: Tributes as Germanwings crash victims are named

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