Finnish police officers talk to family members of pupils at the primary Viertola comprehensive school
Finnish police officers talk to family members of pupils at the primary Viertola comprehensive school AFP

A 12-year-old opened fire Tuesday at a school north of the Finnish capital Helsinki, killing a classmate and seriously injuring two other children, with police saying they were still investigating the motive and lead-up to the incident.

The Viertola school in Vantaa, Finland's fourth-largest city, has around 90 staff and 800 pupils in grades one to nine, or aged seven to 15.

"Today, after 9:00 am, a shooting incident took place at a school... in which a sixth grader, a student of the school, died," Ilkka Koskimaki, chief of the Eastern Uusimaa police department, told a press conference, adding that two others were "seriously injured".

Police had earlier said that both the suspect and the injured were 12 years old. They have opened an investigation into murder and attempted murder.

In an afternoon update, police said they had been able to conduct an interview with the young suspect.

"The police are investigating, among other things, the motive for the act and the reasons for the incident," Detective Chief Inspector Marko Sarkka, who is leading the investigation, said in a statement, adding more information would be shared on Wednesday.

Police also said a technical investigation of the crime scene had begun at the school, which would continue on Wednesday.

The child who was killed died at the scene, and the suspect had already fled the school by the time police arrived.

The suspect, who was carrying a gun, was arrested in a "calm manner" around 10 am and had admitted being the shooter in a preliminary interrogation. There were no other suspects, police said.

They said the weapon the suspect was carrying belonged to a relative.

Owing to the suspect's young age, police said the child would not be held in custody, but would be turned over to social services after being interviewed.

Ayan Hanif, a student at the school, told AFP that he and his classmates had just gone outside for a physical excercise class when teachers told them to hurry back inside and sit on the floor.

"I think I heard one or two gunshots but I'm not sure," the 13-year-old said.

Another witness told Finland's Iltalehti newspaper that shots had echoed across the schoolyard.

"At first I didn't understand it was a weapon. Then a terrible scream could be heard and children ran across the yard," the witness said.

A large number of police officers, some carrying body armour and rifles had gathered outside the school.

Parents of the students told journalists the shooting took place in a classroom, but police did not specify any details about the shootings during a press conference.

Concerned parents arrived shortly after news of the shooting broke and waited outside the cordoned off school in the near freezing temperature.

"My daughter is still there in the school building and we're waiting for the children to come out," Janne Savolainen told AFP.

Savolainen added that he it was a "huge surprise" that the shooting had occurred at the school.

"We are talking about an elementary school so they're small children," he said.

Shortly after noon, police had begun letting parents who were waiting outside the school inside to see their children, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said in a statement that the incident was "deeply upsetting"

"On my own behalf and on behalf of the Government, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of the deceased child."

"The circumstances that led to this incident are being thoroughly investigated, and we will be able to draw conclusions later," Orpo added.

Finnish President Alexander Stubb, said in a post to X that he was "shocked" by the event.

"I would like to express my deepest condolences to the families of the deceased student," Stubb said.

The country's Ministry of the Interior said that all government institutions would fly flags at half-mast on Wednesday "in honour of the victims of the shooting."

The ministry also encouraged the whole country to participate in the event.

Finland has already witnessed several gruesome school attacks in recent decades.

In November 2007, an 18-year-old man opened fire at a secondary school in Jokela, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Helsinki, killing the headmaster and a nurse along with six students before turning the gun on himself.

In October 2019, a college student, armed with a sabre, killed a 23-year-old woman and wounded nine others at a vocational school in the city of Kuopio.

The suspect was arrested in Helsinki
The suspect was arrested in Helsinki AFP