(AFP) – Sep 23, 2008
KAUHAJOKI, Finland (AFP) — A masked student went on the rampage at a Finnish school Tuesday, methodically gunning down 10 people before killing himself, a day after police quizzed him over a chilling YouTube warning.
Young women screamed as the 22-year-old shooter stalked the corridors of the vocational college in a ski mask and black outfit letting off round after round at helpless students before starting several fires, witnesses and police said.
The massacre in Kauhajoki in southwestern Finland was the country's deadliest school shooting and the second in under a year.
"I heard the sound of shooting and hysterical girls' voices. Then two girls came towards my room and said a weird man was shooting," Jukka Forsberg, the janitor of the school, told AFP.
"I went to see and saw a guy leaving a big black bag in the corridor and going into classroom number three and closing the door.
"I looked through the window and he immediately shot at me," he said, adding, "Thank God I was not hit! He fired at me but I was running zigzag. I ran for my life."
Forsberg said he heard "horrible screams of pain" as he raced out of the building.
The shooter has been identified as second-year culinary arts student Matti Juhani Saari.
The head of the police investigation, Jari Neulaniemi, said the shooter had left a note in his apartment explaining his actions.
"In the note he said he hated mankind and the human race. And that he had been planning this since 2002," Neulaniemi said.
Finnish Interior Minister Anne Holmlund said police had questioned Saari the day before the attack over a video of himself at a shooting range he had posted on the Internet.
Investigators had deemed him not enough of a threat to withdraw his gun license, Holmlund said, adding that he obtained a temporary permit for a .22-caliber weapon earlier this year.
Another video clip on YouTube showed the same young man pointing a gun at the camera and saying "You will die next," before firing four shots.
Neulaniemi told the YLE public broadcaster that nine victims had been found in one classroom, while another had been discovered in a corridor.
Saari, who eventually turned the gun on himself, was found with serious head injuries in another corridor at the other end of the building.
He was taken to a local hospital but died later of his wounds, bringing the total death toll to 11, police told AFP.
The shooting started at 11:00 am (0800 GMT) and lasted for about an hour and a half, Ari Paananen, at the Kauhajoki mayor's office, told AFP.
Hours after the massacre, streets in the sleepy town of around 14,000 people were jammed with fire trucks, police vans and military vehicles.
Police wearing bullet-proof vests patrolled the school grounds and crowds gathered behind police barricades.
Fires had been set in several locations around the school during the rampage, a fire brigade duty officer said, but the blaze had been brought under control.
Thick smoke had however complicated the police investigation, and a forensic team had not been able to begin identifying bodies inside the building until hours after the attack.
"During the night we will try to identify the victims, but some of them have been severely burned so identifying them might take some time," Tuula Kyren, a spokeswoman for the National Bureau of Investigation told AFP.
One of Saari's neighbours told tabloid Iltalehti that the shooter had appeared to be a normal, quiet person.
"He was like one of us, quiet, but not a hermit," said the unnamed young female student.
Following a crisis meeting of the Finnish government, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen expressed his cabinet's condolences to the victims and their families and said flags would fly at half staff across Finland on Wednesday.
Coming less than a year after another Finnish high school massacre in November 2007 that left nine people dead, Tuesday's shooting reopened a debate over gun ownership in Finland.
The country has one of the world's highest gun ownership rates, ranking third behind the United States and Yemen, according to a study last year by the Small Arms Survey of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.
After the 2007 shooting Finland's cabinet had announced plans to toughen the country's gun laws but no changes had yet been introduced.
Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said Tuesday: "We have to tighten the law significantly."
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