Shooting in Kauhajoki: Finnish Red Cross provides emergency psychological support

Published: 24 September 2008 0:00 CET

The Finnish Red Cross has been closely involved in the work to provide crisis support for people shocked by the recent shooting in the town of Kauhajoki. Eleven people were killed in Kauhajoki Vocational College in Western Finland on Tuesday 23 September when a young man shot nine students and one teacher just before noon. One of the fatalities is the gunman, who took his own life.

Finnish Red Cross volunteers were sent to Kauhajoki on Tuesday, immediately after the shooting. Some two hundred students were at the college at the time of the incident and were evacuated to a nearby school. Red Cross volunteers were present to provide psychological support for the students.

Throughout the day, volunteers also provided crisis support at the town’s Youth Centre, at events organised by the local parish as well as at the local Red Cross Activity Centre. At night, volunteers patrolled the town. Volunteers will continue to be available for crisis counselling and psychological support. In addition, a team of Red Cross crisis psychologists was despatched to Kauhajoki on Wednesday. They will provide assistance for students at the schools and colleges in Kauhajoki during Thursday and Friday.

Since Tuesday afternoon the Finnish Red Cross has also provided a telephone hotline for all the people shocked by the events in Kauhajoki. Trained volunteers as well as professional psychologists have been answering calls. During Tuesday evening parents and teachers in particular turned to the hotline for assistance. They mostly wanted to know how to talk about the day’s events with young people. By Wednesday morning, Red Cross volunteers had received a couple of hundred calls.

Lessons learned

The shooting in Kauhajoki occurred less than a year after a similar school shooting in Jokela in Southern Finland. Ms Anja Alila, who coordinates the Finnish Red Cross health care programmes, says that the Red Cross drew on experiences from Jokela in organising the support effort in Kauhajoki. Procedures in the Finnish Red Cross have been made smoother and there is continuous preparedness for events such as these.

“The events were very similar. This time we knew what to expect and had an idea of the scope of help needed,” says Anja Alila. “Everybody knows what to do in a situation like this. We have clear areas of responsibility and information passes smoothly within the organisation as well,” she adds.

One prerequisite for quick and efficient help is that a sufficient number of trained volunteers is available. In the case of Kauhajoki, some sixty Red Cross volunteers trained in first aid and psychological support could be sent to the town very quickly from neighbouring towns.

A day of national mourning for the victims of the shooting has been declared and flags are flying at half-mast across the country. In Kauhajoki, citizens placed candles and flowers outside the college in memory of the deceased.