I Escaped The Norwegian Massacre
July 29, 2012
By: Mari Myhre
Matilda*, 20, a member of the Norwegian Labour Party Youth (AUF) who survived the Utøya massacre. She now tells us her story of how she fought for her life and escaped from this horrific tragedy.
“When I look back today and realise that this actually happened, I still think it seems so unreal. Just think about it, one minute I’m in this room setting up a satellite TV in order to be updated with what’s going on in Oslo, and the next I’m swimming as fast as I can for my own safety. It all happened so quickly but in another way it felt like it went on for several hours. It kind of felt like death had arrived on Utøya as a cold, dark shadow.
“I was in what we call the ‘main house’, one of the biggest houses, next to the largest tent areas when it all began. There were about 30 of us together in a room, and suddenly out of nowhere I noticed people getting anxious and restless, then they started running towards the windows. I did as well out of curiosity trying to figure out what they all were looking at. Then, unexpectedly we heard gunshots. Loud, petrifying gunshots.
“From that very first time I instantly knew that something was terribly wrong. I’m not sure why I reacted the way I did because everyone had kept telling me how safe we were on island. Just picture it, we were all on this beautiful island where we had shared so many memories together: like bonfires, camping and the sound of acoustic guitars. The summer camps were a place where we shared the same values and attended a number of seminars and workshops. Most of us looked on Utøya as a safe and divine place, but as soon as I had heard of what had happened in the capital, an overwhelming feeling told me we weren’t safe at all. Suddenly it all seemed a bit frightening that 500 members of AUF were gathered on an island in the middle of nowhere.
“I remember I thought to myself, it is one thing to plant a bomb at the central train station in Oslo, but to blast the prime minister’s office, that to me seemed like an attack on the government from the very first time. So I didn’t feel safe at all, and to be honest, I just wanted to go home.
“We started hearing more and more gunshots and some of us ran into the room next door. We were panicking because none of us knew what was happening. Some were crying others screaming, shocked that they didn’t have any idea of what was going on. The house was filled with fear. In panic people ran from both rooms in every direction, and I was knocked to the floor. We were in shock, nothing but complete chaos! Sprawled on the floor, I looked up and suddenly they started running towards me. I realised in that moment that I had to do something. It was time to figure out what was going on.
“When I look back at that day, I think this was the hardest time for me on the island. All I knew then was that I had just heard gunshots and screams, but who were they coming from? And where? My heart was beating faster and faster and I could literally feel the blood pumping through my veins. I was so scared, absolutely petrified. My breathing was out of control and the same question raced through my head: ‘what was happening out there?’. I decided to send a text message to my mum telling her how much I loved her and my family, not knowing if I would ever see them again. When that was sent I knew I had to start running down towards the water, trying to find a hiding place. I saw a wooden shed on the shore also known as the ‘pump house’. But as I was one of the last people to exit the house, most of the good hiding places were already taken. Fifty other youngsters were with me, waiting in silence. Not knowing the situation.
“I realised quickly that I had to try to calm myself down and start to focus. I had to have a clear mind in order to find out what was going on. I started looking at people around me, asking them if they knew what was happening. Several rumours were going around at this time, some kept saying it was members of the Labour Party others said it was terrorists. I didn’t know what to think. My heart just kept beating faster and faster, the camp was covered in fear. One of the boys had a walkie-talkie in his hand and said to everyone’s biggest surprise: “no, it’s a policeman that is shooting at us.”
‘A policeman! Shooting! But why would a policeman shoot at us?’ thought Matilda. “After an hour or so, several of us went to find another secure hiding place. They kept saying they could hear the gunshots were coming closer and closer. I didn’t agree with them, I just kept hearing loud and continuous shots but couldn’t work out where they were coming from or how far away they were. I had come to a certain point where at one moment I would freak out and start crying, whilst at the next I would be calm and start focusing again. I was so scared and couldn’t move. Something inside me kept saying that if I went hiding somewhere else he would find me immediately.
“But I managed to get control and ran to a rock close to the shoreline. It wasn’t a big rock but two girls and I managed to hide behind it. When I look back today I think I was a bit harsh and annoyed with these girls. They kept texting and calling their parents, talking and making noises. I just wanted them to shut up because I was terrified that he would hear us and come find us. And if he did find us would he then shoot us? They kept talking loudly to one another. I knew they were scared too but I was so panicked, I just wanted them to keep quiet.
“Suddenly the whole atmosphere changed. People went from being terrified and upset to relieved. Some of them started talking loudly again. I didn’t really know what was happening so I started yelling to one of the other guys ‘what was going on?’. He told me that the police were there. I remember I asked if it was one man or more. He replied saying it was just one.
“My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I felt goose bumps all over my body. This was the moment. I wouldn’t be able to make it. He would shoot me and I would die. I remember I kept thinking to myself, would it hurt?
“Thousands of thoughts were running through my head. Was this it? Was this how I would end my life? But something kept me going, telling me that I had to get myself out into the water. I wouldn’t give up. I acted on instinct, tearing my heavy woollen jumper off and started running as fast as I could. The other girls ran after me, we threw ourselves into the water and started swimming. My whole body was filled with adrenaline. I couldn’t feel if the water was cold or not, my body just felt numb. Whilst I was out there, I could hear more and more gunshots. I kept swimming as fast as I could, frightened of looking back, terrified that the next shot would kill me. I kept thinking why is the policeman shooting at us?
“After swimming about 100 metres or so I needed to catch my breath. I looked back. What I saw was blood curdling. People were lying on the ground, shot dead. Murdered. I started counting them. My eyes scanned the island’s shoreline. Eight. Suddenly appearing at the exact same place that I had been hiding moments before, a man looked back at me in the water. Staring at me with a weapon in his hand. He didn’t move the gun his eyes just kept following me. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like he was staring at me for hours, deep into my eyes, whilst I kept crying, swimming and panicking at the same time.
“After being out in the water for nearly 45 minutes we could finally see a boat driving towards us. Cold and exhausted I scrambled in, not giving the driver a choice if he wanted to take me with him or not. The driver kept picking up several members from the water whilst I tried with the little energy I had left telling him not to drive too close around the shoreline. We kept hearing gunshots so I was still petrified that the next one would hit me. As soon as we got to the other side, several policemen and ambulance personnel were already there. The first thing I did was to call my parents telling them I was alive.”
Both of the girls Matilda was hiding with survived the Norwegian massacre, where 69 members of AUF were shot and killed. After experiencing such a tragedy, Matilda has tried to move on with her life as best as she can. She’s still a member of AUF but also a fulltime law student. She says, “At the moment I’m doing the best I can focusing on my studies, and I’ve realised that life goes on”. Still she says, “What happened on Utøya will always be a part of me, and that’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life, even if I want to or not. So at the moment I try to think of all the good memories from previous camps and take time to grieve if I need to.”
On July 22 2011, the right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik attacked Norway and resulted in killing 77 innocent people. He managed to kill 69 members of the Norwegian Labour Party Youth (AUF), whom 55 were teenagers, and the youngest victim was 14 years old. Before arriving on the island he planted a car bomb outside the government buildings in Oslo city centre, which killed eight people. Breivik has said himself that his actions ‘were cruel but necessary in order to defend Norway and Europe from becoming a multicultural society.’
Image source: Cluesforum.info
*Matlida’s name has been made-up to protect her identity.