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Finnish police say bullying was motive for school shooting

By Essi Lehto and Sergejs Mikusa

HELSINKI (Reuters) -A 12-year-old boy who shot and killed a fellow sixth-grader and severely injured two others at a school in Finland has said he was a target of bullying and that this was the motive for his attack, police said on Wednesday.

The boy on Tuesday brought a relative's revolver to Viertola school near Helsinki and shot the three 12-year-olds and threatened several others. He had transferred to the school at the start of 2024, investigators said.

Finland held a national day of mourning on Wednesday, with flags on public buildings flown at half-mast in a sign of respect for the dead child. The two other pupils remained in hospital, with what police said were life-threatening injuries.

"We just found out today that there was this bullying behind the tragedy," lead investigator Detective Chief Inspector Marko Sarkka told Reuters. He declined to elaborate.

Police have not said whether the attacker sought to target any specific individuals.

Finland has seen a rising level of bullying in schools, with 8.6% of pupils who are now around 12 years old saying they had been targeted at least once a week, up from 7.2% in 2019, according to a 2023 study by public health institute THL.

The permit for the revolver used in Tuesday's attack belonged to a relative of the suspect, police said. It was not immediately clear how the shooter had obtained the weapon.

"This matter is being investigated by the police as a separate firearms offence," investigators said in a statement.

CANDLES AND FLOWERS

Mourners lit hundreds of candles and laid flowers outside the school in the town of Vantaa on Wednesday.

The mother of one fifth-grader at the school said parents and teachers should talk more with the children to help identify as early as possible any cases of bullying.

"I want more resources to deal with these incidents," the mother, Valentina Goncharenko, told Reuters.

Following deadly school shootings in 2007 and 2008, Finland tightened its gun legislation in 2010 and introduced an aptitude test for all firearms licence applicants. The minimum age for applicants was also raised to 20 from 18.

There are more than 1.5 million licensed firearms and about 430,000 licence holders in the country of 5.6 million people, where hunting and target shooting are popular.

There were no immediate calls in Finland following Tuesday's incident for a change in the gun laws.

"As far as I understand, you don't easily get a permit for this kind of hand gun and they should be locked away," said Tuomo Matero, a musician out for a stroll in central Helsinki.

"No 12-year-old should have access. If the legislation is followed properly... this kind of thing shouldn't happen. We should make sure there are enough teachers in schools and kids feel safe and that there is no bullying in schools," he added.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, Sergejs Mikusa in Vantaa, Louise Rasmussen in Copenhagen, editing by Terje Solsvik, Sharon Singleton and Gareth Jones)