We weren’t downtown a week ago when it happened having spent the previous day and night at the cottage with friends. The first reports of the horrific Barcelona van attack had reached us sometime between dinner and sauna bathing.
On Friday afternoon, when we were on an outing on the Ruissalo island my son living in Helsinki called checking on us. He had just read an alarming piece of news about several stabbings in Turku only one block from where we live.
We later learned I got the call 30min after the police had received the first report of the incident and the perpetrator had been caught three minutes thereafter by shooting him in the leg.
During those few minutes, the 18-year-old Moroccan – should those be his actual age and nationality – had managed to stab eight women plus two men who had rushed to the rescue of the victims. He started the attack at the market square and tried to flee running two blocks towards another square, the one under which we have our rented parking space, slashing his knife or maybe two arbitrarily stabbing female passers-by on his way.
Two of the victims died, two are still in intensive care connected to a ventilator because of injuries in the neck area. For the very first time in our country the crime is now investigated as an act of terrorism.
My first emotion was disbelief. Surely not in our beautiful tranquil hometown with less than 200,000 inhabitants, surely not in the middle of a sunny Friday afternoon in Finland, the safest country in the world. By the time of our first visit to the site on Saturday, the feeling had turned into sorrow not only because of the innocent victims but also because of the disturbing fact that even in this day and age there are people who can be lured to believe in violence.
What also makes me sad is domestic intolerance, the people who are eager to label every innocent foreign-looking person, even children who were born here, somehow accountable for the actions of a misguided madman. Even after they’ve learned that several of the men rushing to help or running after the attacker were immigrants, one of them an asylum seeker even.
Thankfully, there’s been no sign of hostility on the site where the tragedy started. My steps have taken me there many times this past week. There’s been a continuous flow of candles and flowers to the corner of the market square. Standing by them feels like you were observing last Sunday’s one-minute silence inside and all around you over and over again. Everything is quiet and peaceful there. It’s been a shared experience of healing and empowerment. Most importantly, there’s no place for fear in our hearts. After all, how could you ever safeguard yourself against the random madmen of this world other than through education and caring.