Thursday 12 December 2019

'They were all so young -- between 14 and 19 years old'

Survivors describe chaotic scenes with assailant spraying gunfire everywhere as petrified teens leapt into the sea

Teenagers at the island camp on Utoya, 30km northwest of Oslo, fled screaming, many leaping into the water when the assailant began spraying them with gunfire, witnesses said.

"I just saw people jumping into the water, about 50 people swimming towards the shore. People were crying, shaking, they were terrified," said Anita Lien, 42, who lives by Tyrifjord lake, a few hundred metres from Utoya. "They were so young, between 14 and 19 years old."

Survivor Jorgen Benone said: "It was total chaos. I think several lost their lives as they tried to get over to the mainland. I saw people being shot. I tried to sit as quietly as possible. I was hiding behind some stones. I saw him once, just 20, 30 metres away from me. I thought 'I'm terrified for my life', I thought of all the people I love.

"I saw some boats but I wasn't sure if I could trust them. I didn't know who I could trust any more.

"We had all gathered in the main house to talk about what had happened in Oslo. Suddenly, we heard shots. First we thought it was nonsense. Then everyone started running," one survivor, a 16-year-old called Hana, told Norway's Aftenposten.

"I saw a policeman stand there with earplugs. He said 'I'd like to gather everyone'. Then he ran in and started shooting at people. We ran down towards the beach and began to swim."

Hana said the gunman fired at people in the water.

Many hid in buildings or fled to the woods as shots echoed across the island, which was hosting the annual camp for the youth wing of the Labour Party, dominant in Norway since World War Two.

Another Utoya survivor said she was still in shock. "I cannot squeeze out one tear. I cannot believe it," wrote 23-year-old student Khamshajiny Gunaratnam on her blog.

She said participants in the summer camp were just digesting news of the Oslo bombing when they heard shooting.

"'Who the hell is that joker?' we thought. Who would have thought that it actually wasn't a joke?" Terrified, Khamshajiny hid in toilets in the main building and then fled to the shore. "We fell and stumbled through a lot of bushes and large rocks. I got many scratches."

When the shooting came closer, she jumped into the cold water and was eventually picked up by a rescue boat.

"Even when we had reached the boat, I could not relax. He could still hit us with his machine gun," wrote Khamshajiny. "I did not feel safe. Not at all."

A 15-year-old camper named Elise who was on Utoya said she heard gunshots, but then saw a police officer and thought she was safe. Then he started shooting people right before her eyes.

"I saw many dead people," said Elise, whose father didn't want her to disclose her last name. "He first shot people on the island. Afterward he started shooting people in the water."

Elise said she hid behind the same rock that the killer was standing on. "I could hear his breathing from the top of the rock," she said.

She said it was impossible to say how many minutes passed while she was waiting for him to stop.

At a hotel in the village of Sundvollen, where survivors of the shooting were taken, 21-year-old Dana Berzingi wore pants stained with blood. He said the fake police officer ordered people to come closer, then pulled weapons and ammunition from a bag and started shooting.

Several victims "had pretended they were dead to survive", Dana said. But after shooting the victims with one gun, the gunman shot them again in the head with a shotgun, he said.

"I lost several friends," said Dana, who used the cell phone of one of those friends to call police.

Eskil Pedersen, leader of the Labour Party youth group, responded defiantly to the massacre. "We will not give up in the struggle for what we believe in -- we will come back to Utoya."

He said former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland had been on Utoya earlier last Friday but left by boat before the attack.

Police said the number of victims could still rise as they search the waters around the island for more bodies. Acting police chief Roger Andresen said he did not how many people were still missing. Oslo University hospital said it had so far received 11 wounded from the bombing and 16 people from the camp shooting.

Sunday Independent

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