- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2008

UPDATED:

KAUHAJOKI, Finland (AP) – A masked gunman whose violent YouTube postings prompted police to question him just a day earlier opened fire Tuesday at his trade school in western Finland, killing 10 people and burning some of their bodies before shooting himself in the head.

Witnesses said panic broke out as the gunman, dressed in black and carrying a large bag, entered the school in Kauhajoki and started firing in a classroom where students were taking an exam. The shootings began just before 11 a.m. local time (0800GMT), as about 150 students were at the Kauhajoki School of Hospitality, 180 miles (300 kilometers) northwest of Helsinki.

“I heard several dozen rounds of shots, in other words it was an automatic pistol,” school janitor Jukka Forsberg told Finnish broadcaster YLE. “I saw some female students who were wailing and moaning and one managed to escape out the back door.”

On Monday, police questioned the gunman about YouTube postings in which he is seen firing a handgun, but he was released because there was no legal reason to hold him, Interior Minister Anne Holmlund said.

“The detective who handled the case did not think that the circumstances were such that they required a confiscation of the weapon or a withdrawal of the license,” Holmlund told reporters.

Police spokesman Jari Neulaniemi said the attacker walked into the school armed with a .22-caliber pistol and explosive devices that were used to start a fire. He killed 10 people, burning some of them beyond recognition, Neulaniemi said. The big bag apparently contained the explosives.

It was Finland’s second school massacre in less than a year and the two attacks had eerie similarities. Both gunmen posted violent clips on YouTube prior to the massacres, both were fascinated by the 1999 Columbine school shootings in Colorado, both attacked their own schools and both died after shooting themselves in the head.

The gunman was taken to a hospital in Tampere, about two hours away, along with a female victim he had shot in the head. The gunman later died, according to hospital’s medical director.

The female victim’s condition was not immediately clear. Police said two people were wounded, in addition to the 10 victims and dead shooter.

Finnish media identified the gunman as Matti Juhani Saari, a 22-year-old student at the school, which offers courses in catering, tourism, nursing and home economics.

“He was just a regular and calm guy. Nothing outstanding. He had lots of friends. Nothing that would have given an idea that something like this would happen,” student Susanna Keranen told an AP television crew outside the school.

The ruling center-right government held an emergency meeting Tuesday, and some ministers planned to go to Kauhajoki — a town of 14,000 — on Wednesday.

“We have experienced a tragic day,” Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said as he expressed condolences to the families of the victims and declared Wednesday a day of mourning.

Police have not released the names or ages of the victims. The school says most of its students are between 18 to 25 years old, with some older.

Finnish authorities did not confirm exactly what YouTube clips were linked to the shooter.

But in one YouTube clip posted by a 22-year-old “Mr. Saari,” a young man wearing a leather jacket fires several shots in rapid succession with a handgun at what appears to be a shooting range.

The posting was made five days before the shooting and the location was given as Kauhajoki — the same town as Tuesday’s shooting. The posting included a message saying: “Whole life is war and whole life is pain. And you will fight alone in your personal war.”

“Mr. Saari” also posted three other clips of himself firing a handgun in the past three weeks.

Clips from the 1999 Columbine school shootings in Colorado were listed among his favorite videos.

Another clip shown by Scandinavian media showed the alleged gunman pointing his gun to the camera and saying “You will die next” before firing four rounds.

Shocked residents gathered for a special service late Tuesday at the local church, where Vicar Jouko Ala-Prinkkila and Bishop Simo Peura preached with trembling voices. The church bells tolled solemnly at the end of the service, as about 600 grieving congregants walked out in silence.

“Everybody is still in shock. It’s hard to understand this,” Ala-Prinkkila told AP.

Last November, another gunman killed eight people and himself at a school in southern Finland, an attack that triggered a fierce debate about gun laws in this Nordic nation with deep-rooted hunting traditions in the sub-Arctic wilderness.

Pekka-Eric Auvinen, described by police as a bullied 18-year-old outcast, opened fire at his high school in southern Finland on Nov. 7, killing six students, a school nurse and the principal before ending his own life.

Finnish investigators have said Auvinen left a suicide note for his family and foreshadowed his attack in YouTube postings.

With 1.6 million firearms in private hands, Finland is an anomaly in Europe, lagging behind only the United States and Yemen in civilian gun ownership, studies show.

After Auvinen’s rampage, the government promised to raise the minimum age for buying guns from 15 to 18, but insisted there was no need for sweeping changes to Finland’s gun laws. The age limit was never raised.

Associated Press writers Matti Huuhtanen and Jari Tanner in Helsinki and Karl Ritter in Stockhom, Sweden, contributed to this report.

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