Finland was coming to terms with its first school massacre last night after an 18-year-old pupil shot dead seven classmates and his headmistress. The killings took place only days after a video predicting the date of the slaughter was posted on the YouTube website by someone calling himself "Sturmgeist89". The web page also referred to the "scum of the earth" and the "pathetic human race".
The killer, who may or may not be "Sturmgeist", opened fire with a small, .22-calibre handgun just before noon at the Jokela High School in Tuusula, a town about 40 miles north of Helsinki. During a four-hour siege, he roamed the school from class to class, firing at random and killing five boys, two girls and the female principal, before turning the gun on himself with a bullet to the head. Doctors said he was unlikely to survive. At least 10 children who jumped through windows to escape the carnage were also being treated in hospital last night.
Although Finland has one of the highest per capita gun ownership rates in the world, it had until yesterday been spared the Columbine-style rampages which have haunted other countries where firearms use is not uncommon.
"It is a terrible shock. It is the first school shooting in Finland and we never thought it would be in this town," said Tuula Panula, a spokeswoman for Tuusula council. "It's a calm, rural, quiet place. Everyone is in total shock, it's hard to process."
Staff and students told how the gunman roamed the corridors, barging into class after class. "He was moving systematically through the hallways, knocking on the doors and shooting through the doors," said Kim Kiuru, a history and psychology teacher, "It felt unreal. A pupil I have taught myself was running towards me screaming, with a pistol in his hand."
Terhi Vayrynen, a student, told the Associated Press news agency that the gunman charged into her 13-year-old brother Henri's classroom and began shouting: "Revolution. Smash everything."
As news of the incident spread, anxious parents of some of the 500 pupils gathered behind police lines to wait, collapsing with relief or dissolving into floods of tears as their children emerged.
The motive for the rampage remained unclear. Police said the 18-year-old killer belonged to a gun club – but that is not unusual in Finland, where more than 10 per cent of the country's estimated 300,000 hunters are under 20.
He had obtained a licence for the pistol about three weeks ago and did not have a criminal record. "He was from an ordinary family," said Matti Tohkanen, the local police chief.
However, the online profile of "Sturmgeist89" contained text calling for a "revolution against the system". His video warning also contained the song "Stray Bullet" by the German industrial rock band KMFDM, which was a favourite track of one of the Columbine gunmen, Eric Harris.
In Sturmgeist89's video, which has since been removed from YouTube, the camera zoomed in on a low, red building which appeared to be Jokela High School, before the image dissolved to reveal a red-tinted man pointing a handgun directly at the viewer. The logo on his T-shirt said: "Humanity is overrated."
It also contained footage of a young man shooting at an apple in a snow-covered forest, a close-up of a .22 calibre SIG Sauer pistol and a ranting 1,000-word diatribe entitled "Manifesto of a Natural Selector", part of which read: "I am prepared to fight and die for my cause. I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection."
Police said they were investigating links between the online profile and the Tuusula shooting. Sturmgeist89, whose web page was last updated just before midnight on Tuesday, gave a hint as to why the Jokela killings had happened. "[They are] political and much much deeper and therefore I don't want this to be called only as 'school shooting'," he said.
However, that final wish is unlikely to be fulfilled. Commentators are already drawing comparisons with the Columbine massacre in 1999, and Finland may now find itself under pressure to tighten gun laws in a country where 56 per cent of the population owns a weapon of some sort.
The Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, called the shooting an "extremely sad event", adding: "Definitely this will impact opinions about handguns. This will leave a crack in the society we have been used to and have learned to be secure."Reuse content