Several hundred survivors of Norway’s worst peace-time massacre made a difficult, first return to the tiny island where 69 others were gunned down in cold blood by a rightwing extremist last month.
Though police have cleaned up signs of the July 22 bloodbath on Utoeya island, it was still fresh for many of the young escapees braving the visit in hopes of finding some closure to an ordeal that rattled the entire nation.
“I know this is going to be a very difficult day to live through but I also know this is necessary to lighten my burden in the future,” said Adrian Pracon, 21, whose shoulder was hit by one of the killer’s bullets.
In a Twitter post Saturday morning, he said: “This is going to be the second worst day of my life.”
Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg joined the surivors on the island, where Anders Behring Breivik opened fire at a summer camp for members of the youth wing of Norway’s ruling Labour Party.
Norwegian security services, who organised the trip, said 750 people — survivors and their relatives or loved ones — showed up for the painful visit to heart-shaped Utoeya.
The shooting spree was part of twin attacks by 32-year-old Breivik, who decried Islam and multiculturalism and fancied himself a “Crusader”. Earlier that day he had set off a car bomb outside government offices in Oslo that claimed eight lives, as a distraction while he ran amok on Utoeya.
“I need to see the island to move on,” Pracon said by telephone from the bus heading to Utoeya. “And it’s also very important to be with my friends.”
The young man crossed paths twice with Breivik, who had dressed in a police uniform to fool the camp members and carried a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol. Saying he was there to inform them about the Oslo bombing, the gunmen opened fire on the crowd he had attracted, tracking like prey those who fled and coldly finishing off the wounded in the hour-long ordeal, witnesses said.
Pracon had thrown himself into the water fully dressed but turned back, realising he couldn’t make it to the mainland.
“When I got back to the bank, he was there, five or 10 metres (yards) from me, firing on others trying to swim away. He turned around and pointed his gun at me,” he said.
“I was exhausted; all I managed to say was ‘don’t shoot’. He seemed to stop and think for a moment then he left,” Pracon said.
His second encounter came a few minutes later, near where several other young people had gathered.
“I laid down and played dead. He shot at me to make sure I was indeed dead. I think he aimed at my head but he missed me and I was hit in the shoulder,” he recalled.
Emma Martinovic, 18, who escaped the carnage by swimming away, also made the journey.
“This is something I’m really scared about. It’s going to be very difficult to return,” she told the television station TV2. “They say we’ll want to go back to the spots where we hid.”
Both the Friday and Saturday visits were off limits to the press.
A huge team of doctors, psychiatrists, and both Christian and Muslim clergy were on hand to give support, as on Friday when some 500 relatives of Breivik’s victims paid their own emotional first visit to Utoeya, which lies some 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Oslo.
They travelled to the site as Breivik confessed Friday to the killings which police said he called “cruel” but “necessary”.
The Oslo court ordered he be kept in solitary confinement for another month, which the gunman protested as “sadistic torture”.
Norway plans a national day of remembrance on Sunday with a concert by the country’s top performers, which will be attended by the royal family, heads of government of other Nordic countries as well as survivors and their families.