Sunday, November 27, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Copenhagen mall shooter was known to mental health services

Sparking debates on prevention duties in psychiatric services, sources say the 22-year-old charged with a fatal mall shooting had tried to contact a crisis line just before the rampage.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — The entrance to Field's shopping mall outside of Copenhagen was quiet, albeit guarded by armed police and overrun with press on Monday morning. Less than 24 hours after a young man shot and killed random visitors the night before, the situation seemed under control.

Families had shown up to collect their cars and stuff inside. They talked loosely about the Harry Styles concert they never went to and stood in silent contemplation of the tragic event.

Copenhagen's police force had reacted swiftly Sunday after receiving a report at 5:35 p.m. of a shooting at Field's. Thirteen minutes later, they arrested the suspect and proceeded with evacuations.   

A 22-year-old man is now charged with seven attempted murders and the murders of two 17-year-olds, one of them working in the mall's cinema, as well as a 46-year-old Russian citizen residing in Denmark.

Four other shooting victims were brought to the hospital in critical condition. At the time of writing, three are now stable. Three have been treated for stray shots, while 10 have received minor injuries, according to the police.

Authorities have not classified the incident as a terror attack, and say the man seemingly planned and executed the shootings alone. While this individual cannot be named by court order, it has come forth that he is well-known to mental health services,. He is to be held in a closed psychiatric ward while he awaits trial .

During a constitutional hearing Monday after the shooter was charged, members of the press were allowed for only the first 20 minutes of the interrogation. The presentation of evidence took place behind closed doors.

Ritzau reported how the accused was asked to confirm his arrest. He simply agreed that it sounded right and added:

“I am not completely certain about the time.”

The judge spoke conclusively:

“There are certain reasons to fear that the detainee, if not in custody, will commit similar crimes. According to the information about the detainee's personal circumstances, there is also reason to fear, that the detainee, if not in custody, will complicate the investigation by, for example, removing evidence and clues.”

The Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) says it has heard from several sources close to the case that the man attempted without success to contact a crisis line shortly before the shooting. 

The shopping mall Field's is well-visited and easy to access via the Copenhagen metro line. (Mie Olsen/Courthouse News Service)

Upon his arrest, he was found carrying a rifle, ammunition, and a knife. Several videos that the shooter previously posted to the internet are now removed, but DR says they showed the man posing with weapons, including a range rifle, and referring to medicine used in psychiatric treatment.

The details have thrust mental health issues to the center of debate on social media and in Danish newspapers. On Tuesday, the media Berlingske's debate editor Pierre Collignon wrote: “Our conversation should rather be about whether we in the psychiatric system have had a good enough grip on the suspected perpetrator.”

Poul Videbech, a professor of psychiatry at Copenhagen University, advocated on DR this morning for a thorough examination of what existed before the incident and how the shooting could have been avoided. We need to learn the “maximum from such a terrible story,” he said.

Videbech argued that the psychiatric sector in Denmark has long been underprioritized regarding resources for new patients.

“The psychiatry is simply on its knees. That, of course, increases the risk that a person who asks for help will not get it,” he said.

While the suspect is now in custody, his motive is still unknown. The assessment is that he attacked victims at random, police inspector Søren Thomassen informed at Monday morning's press briefing.

At Field's mall at Amager outside the city center, Copenhagen's municipality will facilitate a memorial Tuesday night for the victims. The investigation continues, and the police are still receiving witness statements and images from what occcurred Sunday.

Courthouse News Service has tried to get an early analysis from several Danish criminology experts, but they express that the uncertainties surrounding the case, its impact and the suspect's motivation make it too early to comment.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.