Grieving students from a Finnishtown laid candles outside a local high school on Thursday in remembrance of the six students and two staff members gunned down in a shooting spree a day earlier.

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Three women weep after placing candles along a pond outside Jokela High School, where a gunman opened fire earlier in the week killing two staff members and six students before turning the gun on himself. ((Peter Dejong/Associated Press))

Police tape still surrounded the perimeter of the Jokela High School, in the southern town of Tuusula, as Finland observed a national day of mourning.

The town, home to 34,000 people, is about 60 kilometres north of the capital, Helsinki. Mayor Hannu Joensivu told CBC News on Thursday morning that the district of Jokela could not recall having ever experienced anything as shocking as Wednesday's shooting rampage by an 18-year-old student.

"It was so sudden," Joensivu said. "We didn't expect something like that."

Among Wednesday's deadwas the school's 61-year-old principal, who happened to be a personal friend of the mayor.

"She had been quite a long time as director for that school," Joensivu said.

Police Det. Supt. Tero Haapala also revealed Thursday that a school nurse was killed, apparently chosen as a random target. Crime-scene investigators initially believed that one staff member and seven students were shot to death.

Shooterturned gun on himself

The gunman also fatally shot himself and died in hospital.

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This picture, taken on Thursday, shows a broken glass door on the ground floor of the Jokela school centre in Tuusula, Finland, a day after a shooting at the school. ((National Bureau of Investigation/Associated Press))

Of the more than 400 students aged 12 to 18 enrolled at the school, about a dozen were wounded on Wednesdayby the shooter's .22-calibre pistol, police said.

Across the country, flags flew at half-mast for the victims and counsellors were on hand to help community members through the grieving process.

"There are young people, pupils and other people who need aid — psychological, mental help," the mayor said. "We have built a crisis centre there in the church behind the school …All the people, they are very, very shocked."

Deadly shootings are rare in Finland, even thoughthecountryhas one of the highest per-capita gun ownership rates in the world. Finnish media reported that a school shooting occurred in 1989, when a 14-year-old boy killed two other students who had apparently been teasing him.

Det. Supt. Haapala told the Associated Press that police had not yet established a motive for Wednesday's slayings, "but the explanation can be found mainly in [the gunman's] web writings and his social behaviour."

The shooter, identified as Pekka-Eric Auvinen, reportedly posted YouTube videos of himself at target practice before the incident, in which hemade vague references to "revolution" in a voice-over. Police Chief Matti Tohkanen said the teen belonged to a gun club and last month helegally obtained a licence for the pistol he used in the school shooting.

Auvinen had no previous criminal record and came from "an ordinary family," Tohkanen added.

With files from the Associated Press