School shooting Finland, Kauhajoki School of Hospitality
Associated Press
Matti Juhani Saari

Finnish Authorities Worry About Possibility of Future Shootings

September 26, 2008 04:16 PM
by Josh Katz
Fearing copycats, Finnish authorities evacuate schools following the shooting in the town of Kauhajoki. As more information on the case emerges, the country reflects on possible societal motivations.

Copycats and Fear in Finland

Children avoided class in Finland on Thursday after a spate of alarming text messages and Internet postings incited fears of a potential copycat school shooter, following Tuesday’s shooting that killed 10 and the shooter. Even in Sweden, a school was evacuated and a 16-year-old boy was arrested after appearing in a YouTube clip holding weapons, according to the Associated Press.

In Finland, police questioned two young men for their alleged involvement with menacing postings on the Internet. The authorities also “evacuated at least one school and detained a 15-year-old for allegedly sending threats to another school.”

“It’s clear that the more you talk about these incidents, the more chances there are of copycats,” National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero said. “After we’ve witnessed two such incidents, the threat is real.”

Authorities stressed the link between the recent attacker, Matti Juhani Saari, and Pekka-Eric Auvinen, who was responsible for last year’s shooting. Reports indicate that the two might have even purchased their guns at the same place. “The cases were similar. They were the same type of person, so it could be possible,” investigation leader Jari Neulaniemi told the AP. “They had the same style of hair, same kind of clothing, same interests and ideals—and their deeds were the same.” 

The two were apparently friends, playing war games together on the Internet and speaking about committing acts of violence. In reference to a shooting, one message read, “Let’s do it together,” according to The Daily Telegraph. Auvinen said, “If I can’t do it I know you can make it.”

In 2006, Saari had been discharged from the Finnish Army. One recruit said, “He wasn’t very good at shooting and didn’t really know how to handle a gun. One day we had to go into the woods and only the people at the front were supposed to shoot … But he shot from the back and everybody was very scared. They decided he wasn’t suitable for the army.” Army recruits also said that they made fun of the “weird and silent” Saari.

Another friend of Saari said that Saari told him 18 months before the killings that he was going to shoot other students, “but later claimed to be joking,” The Daily Telegraph reports. Police also surmise that the death of Saari’s brother from a heart attack in 2003 may have also helped shape his mindset. “The killer idolised his brother,” according to The Telegraph.

Background: Saari kills 10 at school

Matti Saari, 22, reported to be wearing a ski mask and carrying an automatic weapon, opened fire at the vocational Kauhajoki School of Hospitality in western Finland Tuesday morning, killing 10 people and then himself, while the students were taking an exam.

A day earlier, police had questioned the gunman because of several YouTube posts depicting him firing a gun and comparing life to a “war.” There was not enough evidence for the police to hold him, however. The gunman reputedly created four YouTube videos, with the 1999 Columbine school shootings on the list of his most favorite videos. The BBC provides a clip to one of his posted videos.

Saari, a trainee chef at the school, reputedly killed his victims “one by one as they cowered on the floor and seemed to be ‘enjoying it,’” according to survivors, The Daily Telegraph writes. Three people in the classroom were able to escape. After shooting his victims, Saar set fire to the classroom burning the bodies.

Related Topics: Last year’s shooting; Finnish culture

About a year ago, Finland experienced another school shooting that shared similarities to the recent one. In that incident, 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen killed six students, the nurse and school principal and then shot himself in the head, after describing his intentions on YouTube.

The shooting caused a debate in Finland, a country known for its gun culture, about the accessibility of guns. The country ultimately opted not to drastically change its gun laws, but said it would raise the minimum age for purchasing guns from 15 to 18.

According to The New York Times, “Some 1.6 million weapons are registered as being in private hands in a country with a population of some 5.3 million.” Finland also comes third to the United States and Yemen in terms of civilian gun ownership, the AP reports.

After two shootings in about a year, Finland is also reexamining the mental state of its youth. Sirpa Haerkaelae, head of a Helsinki clinic, said that the clinic takes in 500 to 600 patients aged 13 to 23 per year. But the resources are not adequate to handle the need for help, she said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The World Health Organization indicates that Finland’s suicide rate among 15- to 25-year-olds is fifth in the world. Finland ranks second in the world when looking at girls alone. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) puts Finland second in alcoholism among 11 to 15 year olds. Britain is first.

Psychiatrists and educators “point to Finns’ legendary reserve and unwillingness to express their feelings, entrenched individualism and growing isolation among people who do not quite fit the mold,” AFP writes. The suicide rate is three to four times higher in the north and east of the country, in areas with smaller populations and fewer jobs.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also places Finland last among OECD countries in students’ enjoyment of school. “Our school system puts too much emphasis on pure performance, when we should ask for more creativity, game, ethics, esthetics, and how to cope with your life,” ombudswoman Aula said.

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