Utøya: an island with a broken heart

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Photo: Paal Sørensen
16:11 CEST+02:00
The countless cartridges have been cleared away, most shattered windows have been replaced and a poster still proudly states "Utøya. Welcome to the island, the Nordic paradise."

This small, heart-shaped island some 40 kilometres from Oslo was wrenched out of its summer serenity on July 22nd when it became the scene of the deadliest shooting ever carried out in the world in peace time.

On that day, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol, turned a frolicking summer camp with some 600 young attendees hosted by the ruling Labour Party's youth wing AUF into a bloodbath.

On Monday, the island was opened to the press for the first time since the tragedy.

"July 22nd has left few material traces on Utoeya. It is in the hearts and minds that you find the deepest traces," said Martin Henriksen, the head of Utøya AS which runs the island, owned by AUF since 1950.

On the day of the massacre, Behring Breivik, disguised as a police officer, first set off a car bomb outside Norwegian government offices, killing eight people, before hitting the road and jumping on the MS Thorbjørn ferry to Utøya.

The 32-year-old extremist, who has claimed to be on a crusade against multiculturalism and Islam, first shot dead the "matriarch" of the camp, Monica Bosei, and an off-duty police officer in charge of security on the island, who had both grown suspicious and had gone down to the dock to meet the ferry.

From there, he made his way up a steep hill and began calling to the campers to gather round for information on the bombing in Oslo.

Then he began his shooting rampage.

Around a dozen young people were shot dead in the cafeteria, where the walls are still riddled with bullet holes, some just missing old Labour Party posters, one of which demands "Down with Arms."

On the outer wall, another poster announces for the evening of July 22nd the showing of "Kick Ass," an action film featuring a teenage crime-fighter with superhero aspirations.

A subtext states though that "AUF would meanwhile like to distance itself from gratuitous violence and stress that this is a peaceful summer camp."

The cafeteria is considered too emotionally-charged to be restored, and has been slated for demolition.

From there, Behring Breivik methodically made his way around the wooded island, following the "love trail" that circles it, shooting at fleeing teens and at those trying to swim to safety, finishing off the wounded, smirking, making snide comments and laughing when he made a hit.

At 6:27pm, after 79 minutes of carnage, he was finally arrested. The island and the surrounding water were littered with 69 bodies, mainly teens, the youngest of whom had just turned 14.

"The paradise of my youth has turned into Hell," lamented Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party, who had been scheduled to speak on the island a day after the attacks.

Through the night after the massacre, police officers who had been tasked with watching over the bodies strewn around the island spoke of the haunting memory of all the mobile phones ringing in the void.

"We knew who was at the other end of the line, in desperate distress. But also that the person was not going to answer," one of them, Geir Oustorp, told the Dagbladet daily.

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"With all those mobile phones ringing Utøya was lit up in the fog," he said.

Since the attack, funds have flooded in to AUF, from philanthropic millionaires to young schoolchildren, padding its coffers with around 32 million kroner ($5.4 million) for rehabilitating the
island, which over the years has hosted whole generations of future leaders.

Children have sold their toys or organised bake-offs, while prisoners have donated a day's salary to the effort.

The reconstruction plans have yet to be finalised, but one thing is certain: AUF will continue to organise summer camps on the island.

"Utøya is the symbol of everything that we believe in: political involvement, the spirit of community, solidarity," said AUF chief Eskil Pedersen.

"No one can take that away from us."

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