Finland mourns school shooting victims

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TUUSULA, Finland, Nov 8 (Reuters) Flags flew at half-mast across Finland today in mourning for eight people killedby an 18-year-old gunman at a school hours after he posted a video on YouTube predicting a massacre there.

Six pupils of Jokela High School, along with the school's principal and its nurse, were killed when student Pekka-Eric Auvinen opened fire with a .22 calibre handgun in the middle of the school day. He then shot himself in the head.

The gunman, who had a keen interest in war history and extremist movements, died late yesterday in hospital.

Police said today that one of the dead was the nurse at the school in Tuusula municipality of 35,000, some 60 km (40 miles) from Helsinki. Initially, they had believed seven students and one staff member had been killed.

Merja Launonen, whose 14-year-old was in the school during the shooting, said she would not make her daughter go back.

''She is afraid of that school. I cannot force her to go there,'' Launonen said.

Many children hid in classrooms for hours after the shooting, fearing the gunman was still a threat.

Police said today that Auvinen, who took more than 400 rounds of ammunition into the school, fired at least 69 times and that all of his victims were hit repeatedly. Some bodies were riddled with nearly 20 bullets apiece.

They said he tried to set fire to the school, but failed.

''Based on all we know he decided to commit a random, incomprehensible act and to kill himself afterwards,'' Inspector Rabbe von Hertzen of Finland's National Bureau of Investigation told a news conference.

TOUGHER GUN CONTROL CALLS Such a tragedy in the normally peaceful Nordic nation should make Finland reconsider its campaign against European Union plans to tighten gun ownership laws for youngsters, a senior cabinet member told Reuters.

''In my opinion we should reconsider this very seriously,'' Trade Minister Mauri Pekkarinen said. ''I believe we have to critically think over Finland's position one more time. I am ready to take this up in the government.'' Although the country has the world's third-highest per capita gun ownership, deadly shootings are rare.

Auvinen, who only last month obtained the permit for the gun he used in the shooting, walked ''systematically'' through the school's corridors, firing into classroom after classroom, according to a teacher at the school.

The YouTube video by Auvinen, set to a hard-driving song called ''Stray Bullet'', shows a still photo of Jokela High School. The photo breaks apart to reveal a red-tinted picture of a man pointing a handgun at the camera.

The clip, which police said was made by the gunman, is entitled ''Jokela High School Massacre - 11/7/2007''.

Across Finland, flags flew at half-mast and many churches planned services to remember the victims.

''People are feeling down and are quiet. It's crazy that this kid copied what has been done in the US,'' said Pekka Tuominen of Tuusula.

Tech-savvy Finns set up mobile telephone text message chains to organise memorials for the victims.

''In the evening at 6 pm, we are lighting a candle in the kitchen window to remember the victims of school killings. I hope you will join us to remember young pupils and the teacher, who only on Wednesday morning believed in the future,'' the message read.

The last major attack in Finland occurred in 2002 when a man killed himself and six others in a bomb blast at a shopping mall in Helsinki. In 1989 a 14-year-old pupil shot dead two middle-school children in Rauma, western Finland.

''Maybe we were living in a bubble until now and this is a wake-up call. Our country is no more perfect than any other one ... we can't pretend it is,'' said Mikko Pyysalo in Helsinki.

Reuters NC KP2213

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