HELSINKI, 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 kilometres) west of Helsinki. All four were mall employees.
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, also worked at the mall and had taken out a restraining order against Shkupolli, Kaski said. He refused to speculate if the four workers had been targeted by the shooter.
Witnesses said panic erupted at the mall, one of the Nordic region’s largest, when the shots rang out and the initial instructions from 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.”
Hundreds of mall workers and shoppers were evacuated to a nearby library and firehouse, local 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.
The midmorning slayings shocked those who had gone shopping early on New Year’s Eve. One witness told the state broadcaster YLE that a gunman dressed in black began randomly shooting at people on the second floor of the mall.
“There were loads of people who were crying and many vendors who were completely panicked,” the unnamed witness said.
Another woman told YLE radio news she saw the suspect with a long-barrelled pistol rushing past at Sello’s Prisma supermarket, where the slayings took place.
A police source in Kosovo told The Associated Press that Shkupolli was an ethnic Albanian who left Kosovo in November and apparently travelled 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.
“I can’t say a bad word about him, and I know no one else can,” said Nexhmije Shkupolli, the wife of the killer’s cousin, standing on the porch of her home, where Ibrahim Shkupolli stayed in November.
“There are no festivities for us tonight,” she added.
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.
Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen sent their condolences to the relatives of the victims Thursday. In his 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 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.
Both young men in those attacks fired guns in YouTube clips posted before the shootings, shot themselves in the head and used .22-calibre handguns bought from the same store.