November 9, 2007 / 3:18 PM / 12 years ago

Panic grips Finnish school in copy-cat gun scare

KIRKKONUMMI, Finland (Reuters) - Panic swept a school in southern Finland on Friday after an online threat that it would be the next target for a shooting rampage, the school’s principal said.

A general view of Kirkkonummi middle school in the Kirkkonummi, 30 km (19 miles) west from Helsinki November 9, 2007. Hundreds of children panicked in southern Finland on Friday after an online threat Kirkkonummi middle school would be the next target for a shooting rampage, the school's principal said. REUTERS/Matti Bjorkman/Lehtikuva

Two days earlier, 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen shot dead six fellow students and two staff members at a school in nearby Tuusula, in a massacre foreshadowed by the gunman in online postings in the days and hours before the shooting.

The Finnish government said it would toughen regulations on gun ownership by those aged under 18.

“Yesterday there was a threat on the Internet ... someone posted a note with the username ‘Sturmgeist’, saying that the next target would be a Kirkkonummi middle school,” Maarit Rossi, principal of Kirkkoharju middle school in Kirkkonummi, said on Friday.

“One can imagine how the rumors spread when we have 1,300 pupils in the complex. This did not proceed calmly, there was panic,” Rossi told Reuters.

Auvinen, who shot himself in the head after the rampage and died later of his injuries, used “Sturmgeist89” as his username on his postings on the YouTube Web site.

He began making postings on Monday indicating that he planned a massacre at his high school. The last was made less than an hour before the shootings, police said on Friday.

“Sturmgeist” means “storm spirit” in German.

Officials at Kirkkoharju said on Friday they had allowed pupils to leave with parental permission and had suspended regular classes.

“At first I thought it was a joke, but then I started to think about everything that has happened this week. I was scared of going to class,” Susanne Cederberg, 17, said at the school.

“A BAD JOKE”

Police said they regarded the threats aimed at Kirkkonummi, about 70 km (44 miles) from Tuusula, as “a bad joke” but were investigating who posted the message on the Web.

Finnish police visited a second school in Tuusula on Friday to talk to pupils and their parents after rumors of similar threats against it.

In neighboring Sweden, two teenagers were arrested for threatening to kill their high school principal.

“I had two youngsters, 16 and 17 years old. They were arrested,” said police chief Christer Seollsted in Soderort, southern Stockholm. “It was a threat to kill.”

He said the two were still in custody and a prosecutor would decide later if the matter would go to court.

In Helsinki, the government announced it planned to tighten Finland’s gun laws.

The Nordic country, where children as young as 15 have the right to own and use a gun alone, had been resisting European Union plans to limit gun ownership to those aged 18 years or older across the continent.

“The cabinet is ready to agree on a proposal which says that under 18-year-olds can use a gun only under parental or adult guidance,” cabinet spokeswoman Sanna Kangasharju said.

Finland has the world’s third-highest per capita gun ownership and hunting is widespread, but deadly shootings are rare.

Government officials were also shocked by the new threats.

“This is a very serious issue. This is unpleasant, unfair and cruel after such an incident,” said Sakari Karjalainen, a senior official at the Ministry of Education.

Reporting by Sami Torma, Terhi Kinnunen, Sakari Suoninen, Tarmo Virki; additional reporting by Adam Cox in Stockholm; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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