Authorities in the Netherlands are “very concerned” about the level of gun violence in the United States, the Dutch defense minister said on Tuesday, following an incident over the weekend in which three Dutch special operations forces were shot in Indianapolis and one died of his injuries.
Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told reporters in Prague, where she met with her European Union counterparts, that the state of affairs in the Netherlands’ “most important ally” had become troubling.
“We do many trainings of our servicemen in the United States and we really don’t expect this to happen,” Ollongren said.
The three Dutch servicemen belonged to the Commando Corps, an elite special operations unit of the Royal Netherlands Army, and had traveled to the United States for training at a camp in southern Indiana. They were visiting Indianapolis while off duty and were shot in front of their hotel downtown at around 3:30 a.m. Saturday.
Police said at least five gunshots were fired at the group as it returned to the Hampton Inn in the 100 block of South Meridian Street, just two blocks south of Monument Circle.
One of the soldiers, identified by the Marion County Coroner’s Office as 26-year-old Simmie Poetsema, died two nights later from his injuries, the Dutch defense ministry said Monday.
The other two commandos have injuries that are “currently believed to be non-life-threatening,” the Indianapolis police department said in a statement Monday. The department is communicating with agencies in the United States and the Netherlands and working to bring family members to Indianapolis and return the soldiers to the Netherlands, the statement added. Dutch authorities said the commandos were “conscious and able to speak.”
Shamar Duncan, 22, of Indianapolis, was arrested in the case Tuesday on a preliminary charge of murder, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said. Duncan was being held in jail and will not be eligible for release from jail while the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office reviews the case, police said.
Duncan’s arrest did not appear in online court records, and it wasn’t clear whether he has an attorney who might comment on the case.
“IMPD detectives want to thank members of the community for their cooperation during this investigation,” IMPD spokesman Shane Foley said. “During the investigation, multiple individuals spoke with detectives and provided detectives with video connected to the investigation.”
The Dutch reaction underscored the gulf between the realities of gun violence in the United States and in the Netherlands, two developed countries and NATO allies that cooperate on military matters but have vastly different levels of gun deaths. In the Netherlands, such a street shooting would be an anomaly. In the United States, it’s another weekend night.
The three members of the Netherlands’ Commando Corps, an elite special operations unit of the Royal Netherlands Army, had traveled to the United States for a training at a southern Indiana military camp. They were visiting Indianapolis while off duty and were shot in front of their downtown hotel.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett told reporters Monday morning that the commandos could have been shot in a drive-by shooting after a bar-room dispute, according to The Indianapolis Star.
Hogsett said he believed the city’s downtown area was safe.
“I don’t know the details of how it happened and what caused it to happen,” Hogsett said. “The tragedy is that it happened. The tragedy is people got into a dispute and they ultimately resolved that dispute by pulling out a gun and shooting.”
The shooting and Poetsema’s death sent shockwaves through the Dutch military.
“Everybody is shocked that this happened,” Major Mark van de Beek, a spokesman for the Royal Netherlands Army, told the Star. “We are losing a great colleague and I’m sure everyone at the unit is going to miss him very much.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Dutch counterpart on Monday to offer his “deepest condolences.”
“My thoughts are with their families and teammates,” he wrote on Twitter after the call.
Gun violence in the United States has surged in recent years. Firearms purchases hit record levels in 2020 and 2021, with more than 43 million guns estimated to have been bought during that period, according to a Washington Post analysis. More than 45,000 gun fatalities were recorded during each of the past two years, and the rate of gun deaths hit the highest level since 1995.
The United States’ “intentional homicide” rate was seven times that of the Netherlands in 2020, the last year for which the United Nations has statistics on both countries. The death rate from gun violence was nearly 18 times higher in the United States than in the Netherlands in 2019, according to the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
In July, Indiana’s Republican-controlled state government nixed the requirement that people have a permit to legally carry, conceal or transport a handgun within the state. Hoggett, the Democratic mayor of Indianapolis, said he has been working to reduce gun violence in the city, which saw record-setting violence in 2021. As of Aug 22, the city had recorded 133 criminal homicides so far this year, according to the Star’s tracker.
The numbers represent a 17% reduction from last year, Hogsett pointed out Monday. “We are making progress,” he said, according to the Star.
By comparison, the Netherlands recorded 121 victims of murder or manslaughter in the entire country in 2020, the latest year for which the government’s statistics bureau has released numbers. Netherlands has a population of about 17.2 million.
Dutch gun laws are much stricter than those in the United States. It is illegal to own or use firearms and other weapons in the Netherlands without a special weapons permit. Only people who have been granted an exemption from the ban—for sporting, hunting or participating in historical re-enactments, for example—can acquire firearms legally, after undergoing psychological testing and background checks.