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Nordic nations

Swedish police officers probed after killing Down syndrome man holding toy gun

Parents questioned why police did not fire a warning shot first, instead of just shooting at their son

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 9:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 9:39pm

Swedish police were under investigation on Friday for shooting dead a 20-year-old autistic man with Down syndrome holding a toy gun in central Stockholm, the special prosecutor’s office said.

“This is a very tragic incident and I understand that many people want quick answers,” chief prosecutor Martin Tiden, who is leading the investigation over suspected misconduct, said in a statement.

Eric Torell was shot dead by a police patrol in the residential neighbourhood of Vasastan at around 4am on Thursday, after he ran away from home with a toy gun.

“The man was holding an object similar to a weapon which the police interpreted as a hostile situation and opened fire,” the prosecutor said, adding no police officer was currently suspected of any crime.

Daily Aftonbladet reported that three police officers shot the man who, according to his family, had a three-year-old’s intellectual capabilities and difficulties communicating.

The special prosecutor’s office would meanwhile only confirm that “more than one officer fired a service weapon”.

Vasastan is a high-income and central neighbourhood, not associated with the crime or shootings that have plagued some other Stockholm suburbs.

“We are completely destroyed … We are in a state of shock,” the victim’s mother Katarina Soderberg told Aftonbladet.

“He wasn’t capable of being threatening. The only thing he could do was to hug and kiss,” she told the local Mitt i Stockholm newspaper, adding he was like “the kindest and most peaceful teddy bear in the world”.

The man frequently ran off on his own, according to his father Rickard Torell, adding he could not understand why police had shot his son.

“They said he was carrying a replica of a gun. That’s not true. It was a miniature toy gun for a five-year-old … cheap too, and plastic,” Torell told Mitt i Stockholm.

“How could there not have been an alternative to shooting him dead? Why not a warning shot?” Eric’s mother said.

Regional police chief Ulf Johansson said on Friday it was “a horrific incident and my thoughts are with his family and friends”.

“This is very tragic for everyone involved and I have a great understanding and respect for the fact that this incident has caused a lot of upset feelings,” he said.

Six people have died so far this year after having been shot by the police, authorities said.