By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
BERLIN, Sept. 23 -- A student chef in Finland killed 10 of his classmates in a suicidal shooting rampage at a vocational college Tuesday, a day after police questioned him about violent videos he had posted on the Internet, Finnish authorities said. It was the second school massacre to devastate the Scandinavian country in the past year.
Police said the gunman, identified as Matti Juhani Saari, walked into a classroom during an exam and opened fire with a .22-caliber pistol. Wearing a ski mask and dressed in black, the attacker roamed the corridors of Kauhajoki School of Hospitality for more than an hour, witnesses said, stalking students and setting off explosives that burned some of his victims beyond recognition.
The shooter "did not say anything, and once the bullets started to whiz by, I started running for my life," Jukka Forsberg, a janitor at the school in western Finland, told reporters.
The attack ended when the gunman shot himself in the head. He was flown to a hospital and declared dead a few hours later, officials said.
Finnish authorities said that Saari, a second-year culinary student, had last week posted the YouTube videos in which he filmed himself firing a handgun at a shooting range and making oblique threats.
"You will die next," he said as he pointed the gun at the camera during one sequence. A message with the YouTube video said: "Whole life is war and whole life is pain. And you will fight alone in your personal war."
Police said they questioned Saari on Monday about the videos but allowed him to keep his gun. Saari had been granted a temporary firearms license in August, and police officials said they decided they didn't have enough evidence to take action.
"Naturally, we will now investigate the police operation to see if mistakes were made," Interior Minister Anne Holmlund said at a news conference.
For many Finns, Tuesday's attack felt like a replay of what had been the country's worst shooting rampage, less than a year ago.
On Nov. 7, an 18-year-old student shot and killed eight others at Jokela High School, north of Helsinki, before taking his own life. In that case, the killer, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, had also posted haunting videos of himself on YouTube, in which he called himself a "natural predator." One clip was titled "the Jokela High School Massacre" and showed a gunman pointing a pistol at the camera.
And on Tuesday, witnesses said an expelled 16-year-old student in Canada entered a Christian high school during chapel and put a pellet gun to the pastor's head before he was tackled and arrested, according to the Associated Press.
Although crime rates in Finland are low, its roughly 5.3 million people are among the best-armed in the world, due to the popularity of hunting and shooting sports. The country has more than 1.6 million firearms in private hands, according to a 2007 study by the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research group.
After the 2007 school shooting, many Finnish lawmakers pledged to review the country's gun control laws. But the effort, including a proposal to raise the minimum age of ownership from 15 to 18, went nowhere.
On Tuesday, lawmakers said they would try again.
"It is not enough to talk about age limits or interviews," Prime Minister Matti Taneli Vanhanen told Finnish broadcaster MTV3. "After two such incidents, we have to discuss whether private people can be allowed to have handguns."
Other than the YouTube videos, officials did not offer a motive for Tuesday's attack.
"He was just a regular and calm guy," Susanna Keranen, a classmate of Saari's, told the AP. "He had lots of friends. Nothing that would have given an idea that something like this would happen."