Suspect chose his victims at Kronan school in Trollhättan based on the colour of their skin, say police
The suspect in the double murder in a school in Sweden on Thursday picked out his victims by their skin colour, according to video evidence seen by police.
“He chose dark skinned people, not white. We are convinced it was a hate crime with a racist perspective,” said Niclas Hallgren, the chief of police in Trollhättan.
“He was dressed in a way that suggested a racist background [and] video at the scene showed he acted in a military fashion. His actions and the way he looked draws the mind to the Nazis,” Hallgren told journalists.
The victims were a 15-year-old male pupil and a teacher, both of whom died of stab wounds. A 14-year-old boy and a 41-year-old teacher remain in hospital in critical condition. The suspect, who was armed with a large knife and a sword, was shot dead by police.
Police declined to name the suspect, saying only that he was 21 years old and local to the area. Media reports have named him as Anton Lundin Pettersson.
A handwritten letter was found during a search of the suspect’s apartment – “a sort of suicide note” – which showed he had planned the attack and said he expected it would be his final act.
Authorities were looking at his activity on internet forums, but could find no evidence of links to far-right organisations, or evidence of accomplices. He had no apparent links to Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist who killed 69 people on Utøya island in Norway in 2011.
Police would not say if the suspect said anything to them after he was shot and before he died in hospital several hours later.
Kronan school in Trollhättan, an industrial city near Gothenburg, has a high proportion of pupils with an immigrant background.
Hallgren said it was a lucky coincidence that a patrol had been nearby at the time of the attack, which meant police were at the scene within 10 minutes of the alarm being raised.
Officers had no option but to use deadly force to stop the attacker, he said. “If we had taken longer to respond, definitely there would have been more victims.”
Hallgren added that police in the city had been trained to respond to similar situations following school attacks in the US and neighbouring Finland.
“We are certain that Sweden is part of the global system, and when we see such awful crimes in schools in other countries, we are not any different and we have to be prepared,” Hallgren said.
The suspected attacker was described by a local man as quiet and reclusive. He liked heavy metal music and hated hip-hop. On his Facebook and YouTube pages he liked and shared movies that glorified Nazi Germany.
Pettersson had recently signed up to a campaign by the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party for a referendum to halt refugees coming to Sweden, but he had no obvious political affiliation. He had no criminal record.
Several reports told how the suspect came into the school wearing a Darth Vader-like mask, a cape and carrying a sword. “I am your father,” he reportedly said, but then was silent.
One of the students asked if they could be photographed with him; the masked man nodded but did not say a word.
The first attacks took place just inside the school entrance, where the cafeteria is open to the public. Teaching assistant Lavin Eskandar, 20, challenged him to take off his mask, yelled at children to run and tried to overpower the attacker, but he was cut down and died at the scene.
Ahmed Hassan, 15, was also stabbed and died later of his wounds. He was sitting in a class when the killer knocked on the door. Hassan opened it and was stabbed in the abdomen, according to reports.
Hassan was born in Somalia and moved to Sweden three years ago. His mother described him as a cheerful boy who loved to play football.
“This offence has echoes of the 1980s Laser Man [when a racist shot immigrants in Malmö],” said interior minister Anders Ygeman, adding that the government would do everything to combat race hatred in society.
Still fighting for their lives at North Älvsborg county hospital are a 15-year-old boy and a 41-year-old maths teacher.
“These are families who have come to Sweden quite recently to seek safety,” Mona Sahlin, Sweden’s national coordinator against violent extremism, told Expressen TV.
The spread of online racism had to be taken seriously, she said: “It is our reality.”
Trollhättan is a city with high unemployment, extreme segregation, and a long history of hate crime – the first mosque to be burnt down in Sweden in the early 1990s was in the city, which is known for a hardcore of rightwing extremists, said Ove Sernhede, professor of social work at Gothenburg University.
“During the last few weeks we have seen arson or attempted arson attacks on asylum lodging reported every day. And now these tragic events in Trollhättan,” Sernheded said.
“There are a lot of activities in social media where extreme rightwing activist fuel each other and urge actions like burning down asylum lodgings. We must ask why the police, as well as the media, are mainly focused on jihadists and the threat from extreme Islamists, while not not taking the rightwing extremist violence seriously. After all, we have an history of extreme rightwing hate crime in Sweden.”
On Thursday evening, dozens of people gathered to pay their respects outside the school, whose pupils range in age from pre-school to high school, many of them the children of immigrants. Some stood outside the school, holding a vigil and carrying posters reading “Why?” and “Why kill?”
“This is a black day for Sweden,” the prime minister, Stefan Löfven, said of the attack. “It is a tragedy that hits the entire country.”
Löfven, who cancelled his scheduled programme and rushed to Trollhättan, placing a bouquet of roses outside the front door of the school, declined to comment on Swedish media reports that the attacker had rightwing sympathies.
The anti-racist organisation Expo, citing reliable sources, said it knew the identity of the attacker, who “during the past month showed clear sympathies with the extreme right and anti-immigration movements”.
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf said the entire country was in shock and that the royal family had received the news “with great dismay and sadness”.
The last school attack was in 1961, when a 17-year-old man opened fire at a school dancehall in the south-western part of the country, wounding seven students, one of whom later died. Violent crime is rare in the country, which has strict gun-control laws. In 2013, there were 87 homicides reported in Sweden, a country of about 10 million people.