The three Dutch soldiers belonged to the Commando Corps, an elite special operations unit of the Royal Netherlands Army, and had traveled to the United States for training in a camp in southern Indiana. They were off duty in Indianapolis and were gunned down outside their downtown hotel around 3:30 a.m. Saturday.
“We do a lot of training for our military in the United States, and we really don’t expect that to happen,” Ollongren said.
The Dutch response underlined the gap between the reality of gun violence in the United States and in the Netherlands, two developed countries and NATO allies who work together in the military field but have vastly different gun deaths. In the Netherlands, such a shooting on the street would be an anomaly. It’s a weekend night again in the United States.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (D) told reporters Monday morning that the commandos could have been shot in a drive-by shooting after an altercation at a cafe, according to the Indianapolis Star.
“I don’t know the details of how it happened and what caused it,” Hogsett said. “The tragedy is that it happened. The tragic thing is that people got into a dispute and they finally resolved that dispute by drawing a gun and firing.”
One of the soldiers, identified by the Marion County coroner as 26-year-old Simmie Poetsema, died of his injuries two nights later, the Dutch Defense Ministry said in a press release on Monday.
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The other two commandos have injuries that are “not life-threatening at this time,” the Indianapolis Police Department said in a statement Monday. According to the Dutch authorities, the commandos were ‘conscious and able to talk’.
Police have not identified a suspect or released any details about the investigation. “Releasing certain investigative information could negatively impact the ability to get justice in this case,” the ministry said in a statement.
Poetsema’s family flew to Indiana when they learned of the shooting and were by the soldier’s bedside at an Indianapolis hospital when he died.
The shooting and death of Poetsema sent shockwaves through the Dutch army, said Major Mark van de Beek, a spokesman for the Royal Netherlands Army. Dutch troops train in the United States because of the wider range of facilities, he tells The Washington Post. Training is currently on hiatus, he said.
The Dutch soldiers were training at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, a “premiere training center” about 80 miles southeast of Indianapolis, Sergeant Jeff Lowry, a spokesman for the Indiana National Guard, wrote in an email.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to his Dutch counterpart on Monday to express his “deepest condolences”.
“My thoughts are with their families and teammates,” he says wrote on Twitter after the call.
Gun violence in the United States has increased dramatically in recent years. Firearms purchases reached record levels in 2020 and 2021, with an estimated more than 43 million guns purchased during that period, according to an analysis by Post. More than 45,000 deaths from firearms have been recorded in the past two years and the number of deaths from firearms has reached its highest level since 1995.
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The number of ‘deliberate murders’ in the United States was seven times that of the Netherlands in 2020, the last year for which the United Nations has statistics on both countries. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, the death rate from gun violence in the United States in 2019 was almost 18 times higher than in the Netherlands.
In July, Indiana’s Republican-controlled state government lifted the requirement that people be licensed to legally carry, conceal, or transport a gun within the state. Hoggett, the Democratic mayor of Indianapolis, said he has been working to reduce gun violence in the city, which saw record-breaking violence in 2021. As of August 22, the city had recorded 133 criminal homicides so far this year, according to the Indianapolis Star tracker.
The numbers represent a 17 percent drop from last year, Hogsett noted Monday. “We are making progress,” he said, according to the Indianapolis Star.
By comparison, the Netherlands registered 121 victims of murder or manslaughter across the country in 2020, the last year for which the government statistics office has released figures.
Dutch gun laws are much stricter than those in the United States. It is illegal in the Netherlands to own or use firearms and other weapons without a special weapons permit. Only people who have been granted exemptions from the ban, for example for sports, hunting or participating in historical reenactments, can legally obtain firearms, after psychological tests and background checks.
The Dutch government warns that traveling to the United States can entail certain dangers. “Many people own firearms,” reads a government website. “It is legal in most states to carry a gun in public. Violence with firearms is widespread across the country.”