Shooter’s YouTube videos didn’t help

Whenever there’s a terrible event like the school shooting at Dawson College in Montreal in 2006, or the shootings at Virginia Tech last year, many people look at the YouTube videos uploaded by the killers and wonder why someone didn’t alert the authorities to the potential mental instability of the shooters. In the most recent school shooting — in which Matti Juhani Saari opened fire and killed as many as 10 students at a school in Finland on Tuesday — people did exactly that. They notified the authorities about the videos, including one in which he was shown firing a pistol and then pointing it at the video camera and saying “You will die next.”

Police even went so far as to interview Saari at his home on Monday, which they also searched. According to news reports, however, they found that Saari had a temporary permit to carry a gun, and said they could find no reason to either hold him or take the weapon. The next day, he arrived at the school with at least one gun and started shooting, as well as setting fires in various places along the way (there have also been reports that the gunman carried explosives). At last report, 10 people were dead (not including the gunman, who also died) and several more were seriously injured.

The gunman’s YouTube account was removed after his name was reported in connection with the shootings, but a number of sites had already copied many of the videos and taken screenshots of his YouTube page. Although several of the videos (some of which are available here as well as here) show Saari firing a pistol, and violent lyrics from a German heavy metal band appear on the page — where one of his favourites is a video related to the Columbine school shootings — there are no explicit signs that he planned a school rampage (although there were reports that some Finnish schools were on alert after threats had been made). What more could the authorities have done?

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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