Police: Gunman kills 5 people in rampage in Finland, then apparently kills himself

By Marius Turula, AP
Thursday, December 31, 2009

Police: Gunman kills 5 in Finland, then self

ESPOO, Finland — A gunman clad in black went on a shooting rampage Thursday, killing his ex-girlfriend then slaying four workers at a suburban shopping mall near Helsinki before turning his gun on himself, police said.

Finnish police said one woman and three men were shot dead Thursday morning at the Sello shopping mall in Espoo, six miles (10 kilometers) west of Helsinki, the capital. All five victims were employees of the Prisma grocery store in the mall.

The gunman was identified as 43-year-old Ibrahim Shkupolli, an immigrant who had been living for several years in Finland, police superintendent Jukka Kaski said at a news conference.

Shkupolli killed his ex-girlfriend in a nearby apartment with an unlicensed handgun before heading to the mall, Kaski said. The ex-girlfriend, a Finnish woman born in 1967, had taken out a restraining order against Shkupolli, he said.

Witnesses said panic erupted at the mall, one of the Nordic region’s largest, when the shots rang out. The midmorning slayings shocked those who had gone shopping early on New Year’s Eve.

“I heard two shots,” witness 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.”

Other witnesses said initial instructions from the police were confusing.

“The first announcement was to close the shop and get everybody out. Immediately after the first one, they announced you can reopen the shop again,” mall worker Joonatan Hongel told Associated Press Television News. “But then five minutes after that, there was an announcement to close the shops again and get everyone out.”

Teemu Oksanen, a police constable, told APTN that police heard about the shooting just after 10 a.m.

“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, trains to the mall were halted and helicopters whirled overhead as police launched a manhunt for the heavily armed killer.

After several hours, a body was found in Shkupolli’s home. Police later confirmed it was the shooter and said he had committed suicide.

A police source in Kosovo told The Associated Press that Shkupolli was an ethnic Albanian who left Kosovo in November and apparently traveled on a Serbian visa issued in Helsinki.

In the Kosovo town of Mitrovica, where the shooter was born, relatives were surprised and saddened by the news.

“Each time he came from Finland, he came here. We had good times,” 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.”

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

The gunman worked at company called Inex Partners, part of Finland’s leading retailer S-Group that owns the Prisma grocery chain, according to Amos Soivio, a colleague and neighbor.

“(He was a) normal man who acted normally,” Soivio told APTN. “Today I heard that he’d been on sick leave a lot lately.”

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.

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

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

Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen sent condolences to the relatives of the victims. 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.”

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci sent condolences to his Finish counterpart

“I am saddened by the news of the grave crime committed by a citizen of Kosovo,” Thaci said. “We stand by you and share your grief.”

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

Previous shootings in Finland have been linked to schools. In September 2008, a lone gunman killed nine fellow students and a teacher at a vocational college before shooting himself 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.

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

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