Finnish New Year rocked by shooting rampage that leaves 6 dead, including shooter

By Marius Turula, AP
Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gunman kills 5, then self, in Finland

ESPOO, Finland — A lone gunman dressed in black killed five people, including four in a crowded shopping mall, before returning home and taking his own life on Thursday. It was the third such massacre in Finland in about two years, and once again raised questions about gun control in a Nordic country where hunting is popular.

Police identified the killer as 43-year-old Ibrahim Shkupolli, an ethnic Albanian immigrant from Kosovo who had been living for several years in Finland, and the national tragedy cast a pall over the nation’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Shkupolli killed his ex-girlfriend, a Finnish woman, at her home, and four employees of the Prisma grocery store at the Sello shopping mall in Espoo, six miles (10 kilometers) west of Helsinki, the capital.

It was unclear whom he shot first.

The former girlfriend, who was 42, had also worked at the same Prisma store, and police superintendent Jukka Kaski said she had a restraining order imposed on Shkupolli.

The Finnish newspaper, Aamulehti, wrote that Shkupolli allegedly stalked the woman for years and that she had complained to police about how he used to show up at the Prisma grocery store to watch her.

National Police Commissioner Mikko Paatero told the Aamulehti daily that it was unlikely the gunman had targeted specific Prisma employees but that police didn’t know for sure.

After killing the four mall workers, the gunman fled the area and was at large for several hours. Police eventually found his body at his Espoo home, and Kaski said the cause of death was suicide.

Relatives in the Kosovo town of Mitrovica, where Ibrahim Shkupolli was born, expressed shock and grief at the news.

“Each time he came from Finland he came here,” said cousin Islam Shkupolli, his eyes red from crying. “I am very surprised by what has happened. I knew him to be a very kind man,” he said.

Relatives said Shkupolli had last visited in Kosovo in November.

“I can’t say a bad word about him, and I know no one else can,” said sister-in-law Nexhmije while standing on the porch of her home in Mitrovica, Kosovo. “There are no festivities for us tonight.”

Back in Espoo — Finland’s second largest city and known as the home of Nokia, the world’s largest manufacturer of cell phones — the day started in chaos. Witnesses said panic erupted at the mall when the shots rang out.

“I heard two shots,” eyewitness Mare Elson told state broadcaster YLE. “First I thought somebody had shot firecrackers inside the mall. But then I saw a man dressed in black running beside me with a gun in his hand.”

Teemu Oksanen, a police constable, told APTN that police received information about the shooting just after 10 a.m. local time. “The police took action and found four victims in the shopping mall — two in the first floor, two in the second floor,” he said.

Hundreds of mall workers and shoppers were then evacuated to a nearby library and firehouse. Local train connections to the mall were halted, and helicopters whirled overhead as police launched a manhunt for the heavily armed killer.

The gunman reportedly worked at a supplier company called Inex Partners, part of Finland’s leading retailer S-Group that owns the Prisma supermarket chain. Amos Soivio, a colleague and neighbor, said Shkopulli was a “normal man who acted normally.”

The gunman reportedly worked at a company called Inex, part of the S-Kedjan group that supplies the Prisma grocery chain. Amos Soivio, a colleague and neighbor, said Shkopulli was a “normal man who acted normally.”

“Today I heard that he’d been on sick leave a lot lately,” Soivio told APTN.

The Finnish news agency STT reported that Shkupolli was arrested for carrying an unlicensed handgun in 2003.

Finland, a nation of 5.3 million, has a long tradition of hunting and ranks among the top five nations in the world in civilian gun ownership. It has 1.6 million firearms in private hands.

In September 2008, a lone gunman killed nine fellow students and a teacher at a vocational college before shooting himself to death in the western town of Kauhajoki.

In November 2007, an 18-year-old student fatally shot eight people and himself at a high school in southern Finland.

Social workers and religious leaders have urged tighter gun laws, more vigilance of Internet sites and more social bonding in this small Nordic nation known for its high suicide rates, heavy drinking and domestic violence.

The Interior Ministry has unveiled proposals — including raising the minimal age limit for handgun ownership from 15 to 20 — but so far they have been mired in fierce legislative debate.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen sent their condolences to the victims’ relatives. In a brief message, Vanhanen noted the large number handguns in Finland and vowed that the slayings would be thoroughly investigated “with particular focus on the unlicensed gun and how the shooter obtained it.”

The deaths prompted the city of Espoo to cancel a New Year’s Eve concert.

Associated Press writer Nebi Qena in Kosovo contributed to this report.

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