By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 8, 2007
TUUSULA, Finland, Nov. 7 -- A teenager who called himself "a natural predator" shot and killed seven of his classmates and the principal inside a public high school here Wednesday, police said, one day after posting a video on YouTube in which he foreshadowed a massacre.
The midday attack, which ended with the 18-year-old gunman taking his own life, jolted this Scandinavian country of 5.3 million people. A nation of hunters and sportsmen, Finland has the third-highest rate of firearm ownership in the world. But gun-related crimes are extremely rare, and Finnish schools have never seen the need to take security measures that have become common in the United States.
Witnesses said the mass killing at the 400-student Jokela secondary school in Tuusula, a suburb about 30 miles north of Helsinki, followed a script that resembled the massacres at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and Virginia Tech University this year.
Shortly before noon, the smooth-faced gunman methodically opened fire as he walked through the hallways carrying a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol, witnesses told Finnish media. Reacting immediately, the school's principal issued orders on the loudspeaker for teachers to lock the doors to their classrooms. Some students tried to find safety by turning out the lights, while others leapt out of windows.
"It felt unreal -- a pupil I have taught myself was running towards me, screaming, a pistol in his hand," Kim Kiuru, an eighth-grade teacher, told a local radio station. "He was moving systematically through the school hallways, knocking on the doors and shooting through the doors."
By the time it was over, five boys and two girls had been fatally shot. The female principal was also killed. Then the gunman paused and fired a single bullet into his own head; he was pronounced dead several hours later. One student was grazed by a bullet and about a dozen others sustained minor injuries while attempting to flee.
Authorities did not identify the killer. But fellow students and Finnish media identified him as Pekka-Eric Auvinen, a student in his final year at Jokela.
The Tuusula police chief, Matti Tohkanan, said the shooter belonged to a gun club and had received a pistol license Oct. 19. The chief also said the student came from an "ordinary family" and lived with his parents and brother.
But classmates said they had recently noticed changes in Auvinen's personality. "He was a normal happy guy, a smart student who was very well informed about world events," Tuomas Hulkkonen, a fellow student at the school, told MTV3 television news. "But recently, he started to get weird, and he withdrew into his shell."
Investigators trying to determine a motive for the attack were scrutinizing videos posted Tuesday on the YouTube Web site. Titled "Jokela High School Massacre," one featured a young man with a pistol taking potshots at a green apple. He wore a black T-shirt that read: "Humanity Is Overrated."
Another showed a building identified as the school, which dissolved into an image of a man pointing a pistol at the camera. The soundtrack featured the song "Stray Bullet" by the band KMFDM, including the lyrics: "I am your holy totem/I am your sick taboo . . ./I'm your nightmare coming true/I am your worst enemy." The song was a favorite of Eric Harris, one of the Columbine shooters, who had featured the band's lyrics on his Web site.
"I am prepared to fight and die for my cause," wrote the person who posted the videos, identified by the username Sturmgeist89, or "storm spirit" in German. "I am a natural predator and will eliminate all those I see fit."
The posting also called for "revolution against the system" and warned readers not to blame books, music or video games for what was about to happen. Classmates of Auvinen said he shouted "Revolution!" as he barged into classrooms, firing his gun.
Residents in Tuusula grieved for the victims as small groups of people gathered spontaneously around the Jokela school deep into the night, some holding candles.
"This is a peaceful place," the mayor, Hannu Joensivu, told reporters. "Nothing like this has ever happened, and nothing like this is to be expected, either."
Finnish authorities said Thursday would be a national day of mourning, with flags flown at half-staff.
"The Jokela shooting leaves a deep cut in our sense of security," Prime Minister Matti Taneli Vanhanen said during a nationally televised news conference. "This leaves a long-lasting tear to the society and the community to which we are accustomed and in which we have learned to feel safe."
People here were predicting that the deaths would ignite a debate on gun ownership and regulations in Finland, which has more firearms per capita than any country except the United States and Yemen. "Definitely, this will impact opinions about handguns," Vanhanen said.
Finns as young as 15 can apply for a gun license. The federal government has resisted efforts by the European Union to raise the minimum age to 18.
Gun crimes are highly unusual in Finland. The Jokela attack is the country's first school shooting since 1989, when a 14-year-old boy shot and killed two classmates.
Other European countries have suffered school shootings as well. In 2002, an expelled student fatally shot 16 people, most of them teachers, in Erfurt, Germany, before killing himself. In 1996, 16 children and a teacher were shot dead at the Dunblane Primary School in Scotland.
Staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington contributed to this report.