Thursday 18 January 2018

Survivor texted mum throughout massacre

Bjoern H Amland in Oslo

Marianne Bremnes's nightmare began with a phone call on Friday afternoon.

It was her 16-year-old daughter Julie, attending a youth camp for members of the Labour Party on the island of Utoya. A crazy man was shooting. People were dying.

Mrs Bremnes's agony was made worse by the fact that she was more than 1,400km away, at home in Harstad, northern Norway. She couldn't reach her daughter, it was too dangerous to stay on the phone.

"I was terrified, disturbed because I wasn't there to help her," Mrs Bremnes said. "I didn't know what to do other than ask her to text me."

As Julie hid from the gunman among some rocks on the seashore, her mother asked her to send an update -- "a sign of life" -- every five minutes.

And Julie did. For almost an hour and a half, as far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik stalked the island, mortally wounding at least 68 people, mother and daughter exchanged words of comfort and lifesaving information.

"I had to be calm for her," 46-year-old Mrs Bremnes said in an interview yesterday. "She also remained calm so it was easier for me to remain calm."

Julie's first text came at 5.42pm: "Mum, tell the police to hurry. People are dying here!"

Her mother tried to reassure her: "The police are on their way."

Julie's texts were urgent: "Tell the police that a madman is running around shooting people. They have to hurry!"

"Stay under cover, don't move to another place!" Mrs Bremnes texted her daughter. "The police are already on their way, if they have not already arrived."

For Mrs Bremnes, the minutes crawled by, filled with agonising peaks and troughs of hope and horror.

There was a heart-stopping moment at 6.15pm, when Julie texted: "The police are here."

Her mother immediately warned her: "The person shooting apparently wears a police uniform. Be careful!"

Throughout it all, Julie kept her promise: a "sign of life" every five minutes. Bare communication was enough to flood her mother with relief.

"I heard from her every five minutes -- she did what I told her to do," Mrs Bremnes said.

Mother and daughter even had time to say "I love you".

Soon after 7pm, she was able to send Julie the news they'd been waiting for: "Now they've got him!" It was not until later still that Julie called: She was on a rescue boat. She was safe.

Mother and daughter were reunited the next evening, when Julie flew back to northern Norway with other survivors.

Julie lost five friends in the shooting. Mrs Bremnes said her daughter is holding up well -- but she worries about the future.

Irish Independent

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