November 15, 2007 / 6:34 PM / 12 years ago

Students return to Finnish school after shooting

TUUSULA, Finland (Reuters) - Fresh paint masks the bullet holes at Jokela High School where students returned to class on Thursday, a week after the country’s deadliest school shooting.

A handout photo from the National Bureau of Investigation shows bullet holes on the first floor of Jokela school in Tuusula November 8, 2007. Fresh paint now masks the bullet holes at Jokela High School where students returned to class on Thursday, a week after the country's deadliest school shooting. REUTERS/National Bureau of Investigation/Handout

The school has been closed since 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen opened fire in the middle of the day, killing six children, the school nurse and the principal.

By Thursday children again crammed the front yard while teachers led them in small groups through the corridors Auvinen had stalked with his gun.

“We need to show there is nobody lurking in the cupboards any more,” said Esa Ukkola, education head of Tuusula municipality, site of Jokela High School.

“We’re trying to have as normal a school day as possible. There are dozens of extra people to ensure we can do everything in small enough groups.”

Finns have reacted with anger at the harsh spotlight the world’s media has turned on their country in the wake of the shooting.

The Nordic nation’s status as a placid idyll that led U.S. magazine Reader’s Digest to designate it the world’s most livable country last month, was questioned after the murders.

“People think they can make an assumption about Finland based on one incident only. Our system has been working quite well so far,” said Helsinki university student Riitta Marttinen.

Anna Cantell-Forsbom, a service manager for psycho-social services at the neighboring City of Vantaa, said a lack of psychiatric resources for children and youths in Finland has more to do with the shooting than Finnish society.

The head of Tuusula municipality, Hannu Joensivu, estimated that half of Jokela’s students, parents and staff would need long-term therapy after last week’s tragedy.


Finland’s taxes are high, but its economy has enjoyed robust growth in the last decade and unemployment has fallen rapidly.

Alcohol problems and suicide levels are high, though, and Finland has the highest murder rate in Western Europe and the world’s third-highest per capita rate of firearm ownership.

After the shooting, Finnish gun laws faced sharp criticism and the government said last week it planned to raise the age limit for gun permits to 18 years from 15.

Media have suggested geographic isolation and heavy mobile and Internet usage in the land dominated by Nokia hampers face-to-face communication.

In the days and hours before the massacre, Auvinen posted a number of messages on the Internet describing his intentions, including a YouTube video clip.

“Young people live on the Internet,” said Joensivu. “But while it is a great opportunity, there are also extremely sick phenomena.”

Residents of Tuusula say the response to the tragedy shows the strong bond among a people renowned for their reserve.

Joensivu said this was clear in Jokela’s students as they returned to school.

“There is a sense that life wins,” he said.

Additional reporting by Sakari Suoninen; Editing by Golnar Motevalli

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