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Police: Many similarities in two Finland school shootings

Thursday, September 25, 2008

KAUHAJOKI, Finland -- The gunman in Finland's latest school shooting likely bought his gun in the town where a teenager went on another rampage less than a year ago, police said Wednesday, adding to the growing list of eerie similarities between the massacres.

Matti Saari, 22, bought a .22-caliber gun at a store in Jokela, about 155 miles from his home, and on Tuesday killed 10 people and himself, police said. Last November, 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen likely got his gun at the same store and went on to kill eight people and himself, they said.

The lead investigator said the shootings were so similar that the gunmen might have been in contact with each other.

"Their actions seems so similar that I would consider it a miracle if we did not find some connecting link," Jari Neulaniemi was quoted as telling the Finnish news agency STT. But authorities did not know whether Saari went on his rampage to copy Auvinen's earlier shooting.

Police said the two men likely bought the guns at the same store, but declined to say how they knew.

Earlier, police detailed the similarities between the two rampages: Both gunmen posted violent clips on YouTube before the shootings, both were fascinated by the 1999 Columbine school shootings in Colorado, both attacked their own schools and both died after shooting themselves in the head.

On Wednesday, the government pledged to tighten Finland's gun laws and keep mentally unstable people from obtaining firearms. The move came a day after Saari opened fire at a vocational college, killing 10 people -- including eight female students -- before shooting himself in the head.

Police said there was no indication that women were specially targeted, they just made up the majority of students at the Kauhajoki School of Hospitality, 180 miles northwest of Helsinki.

On a visit to the college, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said it was time to consider restricting access to guns in a country with more than 1.6 million firearms in private hands.

"We need to study if people should get access to handguns so freely," Vanhanen told reporters. "I'm very, very critical about the guns and during next few months we will make a decision about it."

Interior Minister Anne Holmlund said the government was working on a proposal to restrict gun laws by giving police greater powers to examine gun applicants' health records. Saari acquired a permit for his weapon in August, police said.

Police must "have the best possible information on the state of health of the applicant when deciding on the license," Holmlund said.

Finland has deeply held hunting traditions and ranks -- along with the United States -- among the top five nations in the world when it comes to civilian gun ownership. After the previous massacre, the government had pledged to raise the age for buying a gun from 15 to 18 but never did so.

The government also called for an investigation into police handling of the case. After an anonymous tip, police had questioned Saari on Monday about YouTube clips that showed him firing a handgun. But he was released after questioning because police said they found no reason to hold him.

"We will obviously investigate what the foundation was for the decision to let him keep his weapon," Vanhanen said.

Police were searching for a person who appeared to have filmed some of Saari's YouTube clips but added there was no indication Saari had an accomplice. A video clip Saari posted on the Internet showed him pointing his gun to the camera and saying "You will die next" before firing four rounds.

In Kauhajoki, a town of 14,000 people, flags flew at half-staff for a national day of mourning. Grieving residents placed candles and flowers outside the school.

The National Bureau of Investigation said those killed were eight female students, one male teacher and one male student. Doctors said a 21-year-old woman that Saari shot in the head had two operations and was in satisfactory condition Wednesday.

Neulaniemi said there was no indication that Saari had singled out women and added he probably knew all those he killed, since most students were from the local area.

"Most of the students in this institution are female," Neulaniemi said, explaining the high number of women killed.

Witnesses said panic erupted at the school, which offers courses in catering, tourism, nursing and home economics, as the masked gunman entered Tuesday and opened fire. He carried a bag of flammable liquids that he used to start a fire and burn some of the bodies.

Neulaniemi said Saari "really went out with the intention of killing," leaving a message saying he wanted to kill as many people as he could. "He tried to shoot fatal shots," he said.


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