KAUHAJOKI, Finland (Reuters) - A student shot dead 10 people at a vocational school on Tuesday, Finland’s second such attack in less than a year and just one day after the gunman was interviewed by police over Internet postings.
The killer, 22-year-old Matti Saari, started a fire in the school and then shot himself in the head. He died later in Tampere University Hospital.
“A cold-blooded shooter entered the building with an automatic pistol and started cutting down students,” said Jukka Forsberg, a maintenance man at the post-secondary school in the town of Kauhajoki where the shooting occurred.
“He also shot towards me, did not say anything and once the bullets started to whizz by I started running for my life.”
Police said identification of the bodies was slow because of blaze started by the gunman.
“The site has suffered from fires and the victims have been partially burnt,” said police Chief Superintendent Urpo Lintala.
In an echo of last year’s deadly rampage at Finland’s Jokela high school, Saari posted menacing comments and videos of himself wielding a gun on the Internet in the run-up the massacre, prompting police to question him on Monday.
Officers did not confiscate the gun, Interior Minister Anne Holmlund told a news conference. She gave no details of the interview, but said police did not ask him to surrender the gun because they decided he had made no specific threats.
“Police action will be examined in more detail later. The gunman had a temporary permit for a .22 calibre pistol, and he had received it in August 2008. It was his first gun,” she said.
Gun ownership in Finland is among the highest in the world, but crime rates in general are low.
Up until last year’s shooting, Finnish authorities had resisted tighter European Union restrictions on guns.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said Finland should consider banning private handguns altogether, saying a new stricter European-wide gun law was not enough.
“It is not enough to talk about age limits or interviews ... after two such tragic incidents, we have to discuss whether private people can be allowed to have handguns,” Vanhanen told Finnish broadcaster MTV3.
The Internet link revived memories of the Jokela high school shootings, where student Pekka-Eric Auvinen killed six fellow students, the school nurse and the principal after broadcasting his intent in a YouTube video.
Auvinen shot himself and died later of his injuries.
The Finnish government said grief counsellors were on site and giving support to students, teachers and relatives.
“This is very very depressing. We have only had some time since the Jokela case last November,” said rescue coordinator Kari Saarinen.
A search of YouTube and the wider Internet yielded a number of videos filmed by Saari. They show a man clad in black or dark colours, firing a handgun at a shooting range.
Quoting lyrics from the song “War” by Wumpscut, Saari wrote on his YouTube user profile “Whole life is war and whole life is pain and you will fight alone in your personal war.”
In one video, entitled “Goodbye”, Saari empties his gun into an off-screen target, walks to the camera and says “goodbye”.
According to a former classmate, the gunman bore no resemblance to the loner profile of many mass murderers.
“He was happy, a social guy — there was nothing exceptional — and he got along with people well and he was not lonely. He had friends,” Susanna Keronen said.
The college, the “Kauhajoki School of Hospitality”, had 150 students and 40 teachers as of 2005, according to the official website.
Finland ranks third after the United States and Yemen in gun ownership rates, according to a study last year by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies.
Reporting by Sakari Suoninen, Brett Young, Tarmo Virki, and Rauli Laitinen. Additional reporting by John Acher and Wojciech Moskwa in Oslo, Elinor Schang, Simon Johnson, Bjorn Rundstrom, Anna Ringstrom and Sofia Hilden in Stockholm, Kim McLaughlin in Copenhagen; Writing by Sarah Edmonds; Editing by Matthew Jonese