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Student kills nine in Finnish school shooting

KAUHAJOKI, Finland (Reuters) - A student shot and killed nine people at a vocational school in western Finland on Tuesday before turning the gun on himself, in the country’s second such attack in less than a year.

The suspect in the fatal shooting at a vocational school in Kauhajoki is pictured in this frame grab made from footage released to media September 23, 2008. REUTERS/Handout

The gunman, identified by a local government official as student Matti Juhani Saari, 22, died later of a head wound in Tampere University Hospital, the hospital’s medical director told Reuters.

In an echo of last year’s deadly shooting at Finland’s Jokela high school, Saari posted menacing videos of himself wielding a gun on the Internet in the run-up to the attack.

“A cold-blooded shooter entered the building with an automatic pistol and started cutting down students,” said Jukka Forsberg, a maintenance man at the school in the town of Kauhajoki where the shooting occurred.

“He also shot toward me, did not say anything and once the bullets started to whizz by I started running for my life.”

Many of the students at the post-secondary school, which teaches catering and tourism studies, are around 20 years old.

Interior Minister Anne Holmlund told a news conference that police were in contact with Saari a day before the shooting.

She said they had been alerted to footage posted on the Web showing him firing a handgun at a shooting range, but were unable to get in touch with him immediately.

“Police reached him on Monday, September 22, and asked him to be interviewed regarding the shooting video,” Holmlund said.

She said Saari had a temporary permit for a pistol, but that the permit was not withdrawn.

“Police action will be examined in more detail later. The gunman had a temporary permit for a .22 caliber pistol, and he had received it in August 2008. It was his first gun.”

The Internet connection revived memories of last year’s deadly attack at Jokela high school, 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.

“TRAGIC DAY”

“We have experienced a tragic day,” Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen told a news conference in Helsinki.

Gun ownership in Finland is among the highest in the world but crime rates are low.

The Finnish government said grief counselors 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 a user called “Mr. Saari,” who said he was 22 years old and lived in Kauhajoki. The videos show a man clad in black or dark colors, firing a handgun at a shooting range.

The YouTube user’s profile included the words: “And suddenly there was war and the mothers they screamed. For revenge and reprisals for another war.”

It adds: “Whole life is war and whole life is pain. And you will fight alone in your personal war. War. This is war!”

In one video, entitled “Goodbye,” the dark-clad man empties his gun into an off-screen target, walks to the camera and says “goodbye.”

Local authorities said students and staff had been evacuated from the school and that an earlier fire had been extinguished.

The school, which calls itself the “Kauhajoki School of Hospitality,” had 150 students and 40 teachers as of 2005, according to the official website.

Finland ranking 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.

After last year’s Jokela shooting, the Finnish government took some steps to toughen gun regulations. On Tuesday, it held an emergency meeting of governing coalition party leaders.

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 Dominic Evans

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