Bullying behind Finland’s rare school shooting by 12-year-old ‘wearing noise-cancelling headphones’

Finnish police said on Wednesday the motive behind a school shooting on the outskirts of Helsinki, in which one 12-year-old died, was bullying.

“The suspect has said during interrogations that he was the target of bullying, and this information has also been confirmed in the preliminary investigation by the police,” police said in a statement.

Flags flew half-mast and scores of people laid flowers as Finland marked a day of mourning over a rare school shooting by a 12-year-old boy wearing “noise-cancelling headphones”.

The shooting, which killed a boy and wounded two girls, took place at the Viertola school in Vantaa, a suburb of capital Helsinki, on Tuesday. It has shocked the Nordic nation.

The suspect, a 12-year-old, was a sixth-grade classmate of the victims, who were the same age.

The suspect wore a mask and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones while he carried out the shooting with a handgun, reported Finnish TV channel MTV Uutiset.

He fled the scene after the shooting but was detained by the police “in a calm manner” from the northern Siltamaki district of Helsinki less than an hour later. The suspect was still carrying the handgun, which was found licenced to a relative who was not immediately identified.

Teachers, parents, and students lit candles and laid flowers in the snowy landscape as all public institutions and buildings lowered the blue and white finish flags to half-mast from 8am.

Candles and flowers are placed in front of the Viertola School to pay tribute to the shooting victims in Vantaa (AFP via Getty Images)
Candles and flowers are placed in front of the Viertola School to pay tribute to the shooting victims in Vantaa (AFP via Getty Images)

Police said the suspect admitted to the shooting but it was still unclear what had motivated him.

"There is a lot of different, and partly incorrect, information about what happened in the different channels of social media. The police still want to remind you that spreading incorrect information on social media is a crime," police said in a statement.

In Finland, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 15, preventing suspects below this age from being formally arrested. Instead, those under 15 years of age can only be interrogated by the police before being transferred to child welfare authorities for further handling.

Elina Pekkarinen, Finland’s children’s rights ombudsman, said they had been pressuring the government for years that “we need to take violence between children in society seriously”, according to news agency STT.

She said acts of violence, especially among children less than 15 years of age, have been on the rise in the last few years.

Gun ownership is widespread in Finland and individuals aged 15 and above can get licenses to use firearms belonging to others. The country, with a population of 5.6 million, has more than 1.5 million licensed firearms and about 430,000 licence holders, according to the Finnish Interior Ministry.

The shooting has sparked memories of two deadly similar incidents in 2007 and 2008 which prompted the Finnish government to tighten its gun legislation in 2010.

The new laws raised the minimum age for firearms ownership and gave police greater powers to perform background checks on individuals applying for a gun licence.

In 2007, Pekka-Eric Auvinen shot and killed six students, the school nurse, the principal and himself using a handgun at Jokela High School, near Helsinki.

A year later, Matti Saari, another student, opened fire at a vocational school in Kauhajoki, located in northwest Finland. He killed nine students and one male staff member before turning the gun on himself.