Mall shooting shocks Denmark on a joyful summer weekend
By Jasmina Nielsen, Emma Bubola and Euan Ward
It was a festive weekend in Denmark, as Danes cheered on the unusual spectacle of the Tour de France starting in their country, listened to the Strokes at the Roskilde music festival, and hiked, picnicked, shopped and enjoyed the summer sun.
The happiness was shattered in an instant, when a gunman entered the country’s biggest shopping mall in Copenhagen on Sunday afternoon, killing three people and seriously injuring several others, in the worst mass shooting in Denmark since a terror attack in February 2015.
The gunman, who is in custody but has not been publicly identified, most likely did not have a terrorist motive and was known to the mental health services in Denmark, a top police official in Copenhagen said Monday.
“I think we have rarely experienced such a stark contrast as yesterday,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a news conference Monday. “In a split second, the party and the joy stopped and the worst possible thing happened to us.”
As in most other European countries, the rate of gun deaths in Denmark barely compares with that of the United States, and the attack at the mall was a blow to a country that normally seems immune to this kind of violence.
“The whole city is in shock,” said Jonathan Schultz, 27, a musician and songwriter who lives in Copenhagen. “It reminds you of the mass shootings you see in the States. This is Denmark, these things don’t happen here.”
The suspect, identified as a 22-year-old Danish man, was carrying a rifle and had access to a pistol, both of which are legal in Denmark, but he did not have permission to possess them, Soren Thomassen, the commander of the Copenhagen police, said at a news conference Monday. It was not clear how he obtained the weapons.
“Our assessment is that these are random victims,” Thomassen said.
In a second news conference Monday afternoon, a police inspector, Dannie Rise, said the police were still searching for a motive, adding that it took 13 minutes from the time they were first informed of the attack to detain the suspect.
Denmark has restrictive gun laws: Civilians are not allowed to possess automatic firearms, and private possession of semi-automatic assault weapons and handguns is permitted only with special authorization, according to a repository of gun violence data kept by the University of Sydney for Gun Policy, an organization focused on gun control and violence.
Only licensed gun owners can acquire, possess or transfer a firearm or ammunition. Applicants must pass a criminal and mental health background check, and must establish a reason to possess a firearm, such as hunting or target shooting.
In Denmark, there are about 10 firearms per 100 people, according to 2017 data from the repository. In the United States, by contrast, the figure is more than 120.
Correspondingly, gun deaths are much rarer in Denmark. In 2018, the rate of gun deaths was one per 100,000 people, according to Gun Policy. In the United States in the same year it was about 12.
Mikkel Duus Jensen, 29, a Danish entrepreneur, said he was surprised when he heard of the shooting Sunday night after he spent the day shopping for food, going to the gym and recovering from a hangover.
“It’s not something we expect in Denmark” he said, adding that Danes perceive themselves as a nice and comfortable people, “In Denmark you feel safe.”
He said the community was shaken by the shooting that recalled images of places like the United States, where, he said “it’s almost normal” that people shoot each other. “I am glad that in Denmark you can’t get weapons easily,” he said. Otherwise, “you would have many more people killed like this.”
The three people killed in Denmark’s largest shopping center Sunday were a Danish man and woman, both 17, and a 47-year-old man with Russian citizenship who was living in Denmark, Thomassen said.
The four other people who were shot and seriously injured were identified as two Danish citizens, a 40-year-old woman and a 19-year-old woman; and two Swedish citizens, a 50-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl. Three other people were treated at the scene for possible bullet wounds and released.
Casper Claudius, head of the anesthesiology and trauma center at the Rigshospitalet, a hospital where three of the injured were taken, said two of the victims were now in stable condition and outside mortal danger, while a third remained in critical condition. A fourth is being treated at Herlev hospital and is not in critical condition, officials said.
Police said that a total of 30 people were wounded in connection with the attack, although 20 of those suffered minor injuries in the effort to flee from the gunman.
The shooting took place at Field’s shopping center, a large complex with more than 140 shops that include Danish and international fashion brands.
As the attack unfolded, people raced to leave the mall, while others tried to seek shelter inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, according to witness accounts and video and images posted on social media. Mall staff members were reported to have barricaded the doors and remained there for about 45 minutes.
Videos of the suspect circulating on social media were believed to be authentic, Thomassen said, although he did not provide additional details. News reports said that videos showed the suspect posing with various weapons, making suicide gestures, and referring to antipsychotic medication that “does not work.”
Thomassen said police had questioned the suspect, who appeared in court for a preliminary hearing and was formally charged with three counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder.
“I will wait to comment on the motive, revenge or otherwise,” said Thomassen, who said that there was no indication that the suspect was working with others. He added, “There is no evidence to support a terrorist act.”
Soren Harbo, a senior prosecutor, said the police would spend nearly a month investigating what he called an enormously violent and indescribable case, with the suspect remaining in custody.
The suspect will be sent to a psychiatric ward once space is available, he said, and a mental examination will be carried out. When asked why he would be sent to a psychiatric ward, Harbo said, “It’s both his behavior, but it’s also some statements and some knowledge we have about him from our case files.”