BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday visited a high school that lost 16 students and two teachers in the Germanwings plane crash in March, paying tribute to the victims at a new memorial.
The teenagers and their teachers were on their way home from an exchange trip to Spain when Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf crashed into the French Alps March 24, killing all 150 people aboard. Prosecutors believe the co-pilot intentionally crashed the plane.
Merkel met students and relatives of the victims at the Joseph Koenig high school in the western German town of Haltern. She said she promised in April she would make the visit "because I want to make clear that I am thinking of them, that the government is thinking of them and that many, many people in Germany are still thinking of them."
Merkel laid a flower Tuesday at a steel plaque outside the school's entrance commemorating the 18 victims. That is part of a memorial inaugurated in August that also features 18 cherry trees.
Principal Ulrich Wessel told ARD television before Merkel arrived that "even after seven months, it is very important to send a signal that the children have not been forgotten."
Merkel said in a brief address to students at the end of her visit that a girl who lost a sibling had given her a book with the word "Why?" on the cover.
"This question — 'why?' — is one that I can't answer and I don't think anyone can answer," she said. "But it is a question that torments everyone all the same, and the only way to deal with such a question is together."
Merkel said the visit showed her "how much grief you have at this school, but also with how much love and compassion ... this school is dealing with this terrible event."