Island idyll offers few clues to terror inflicted on teenagers at summer camp

 

In July, Norway was stunned when 69 people at a summer camp were murdered by a gunman. Yesterday, for the first time since the massacre, reporters were allowed to visit the island of Utoeya from where AUDREY ANDERSONreports

IT TAKES only four minutes to get to Utoeya island over the tranquil Tyrifjorden lake. The MS Thorbjørnwould normally be very busy in July ferrying teenagers to the island to participate in the annual AUF summer camp.

Yesterday, it was busy ferrying journalists to and around the island. It is a tiny island nestled among pine trees and steep hills. This is where young people enjoyed the long light-filled Nordic summers.

The steep steps lead right from the quay up to the tiny veranda of the white wooden house known as Hovedhuset (meaning central or main house), partly built into the hill. The sign in red capitals over the front door says “Utoeya”.

This is where visitors to the island would have registered. This has been the first point of call for generations of young Labour Party participants. There is a homely feel inside with its white panelled walls. The only real political symbol is a white plaster cast bust of Lenin awkwardly perched on a black enamel heater.

The press pack given to journalists includes a map with 25 numbered locations on the island but there are no markings to indicate where bodies were found. We are told that this aspect will not be discussed as it is “a police matter”.

This makes it all seem very surreal and some of the other journalists I spoke to felt the same need to constantly remind themselves that this is a crime scene.

It is hard to take in the fact that it was outside this house that that one of the first victims died. She was a 45-year-old mother, known affectionately as Mother Utoeya.

It takes about 15 minutes to walk around the island so the scene of 650-700 people, mostly young people at the Norwagian Labour Party youth affiliate AUF summer camp, running and desperately trying to seek refuge, can only be imagined.

Following in their panic-stricken footsteps, we walk up the steep pine-covered paths. The path takes us to the camping site where many died. The camp site is now cleared – the images of the multicoloured tents a distant memory. But this was the scene of unimaginable atrocity as many young were casually and systematically gunned down while still in their tents.

The menus for dinner that day are still posted on the window of the kiosk and cafe: meat cakes and mash, a Halal chicken option and a vegan stir-fried rice. A rough poster states proudly in English “Welcome to the island, the Nordic paradise”.

A flyer for The King’s Speech– the film of the day – is still hanging up. The theme for the talk and discussion that day was to be “Violence against women and children”. The walls of the big hall (storsalen) are decorated with historical Labour Party posters in red and white. One featured workers stating “City and country. Hand in hand, Norway for young people”.

Inside there’s a kitchen, a large dining area, two seminar halls and toilets. The five small toilet cubicles served as a refuge for terrified teens. In their panic, they were not aware that others were hiding in neighbouring cubicles; all the time fearful of sounds and eventual discovery by the killer, Anders Behring Breivik.

This was a place that should have echoed to the sound of laughter, lively discussions and songs around camp fires. The holiday camp atmosphere is obvious in the lists of activities that were planned for that fateful Friday. Only 3½ hours of the activities, which went on until 3am, were devoted to political discussion and seminars.

From late afternoon to early in the morning, there would have been football and volleyball matches, cinema, barbecues, discos and later maybe a walk along the well-known love path called “Kjærlightsstien”. The path circles the island and the term “walking down the love path” is a well-known expression.

It is a boat trip around the island that really brings it all to life again. The film footage of Breivik methodically shooting victims along the rocky shore here is in full view. The steep cliffs, crannies and tiny caves were desperate hiding places. The love path which leads onto the bathing spot on a little peninsula, “Nakkenodden”, was the scene of panic as youngsters fled panic-stricken, prey-like, as Breivik hunted them down. Ten people were found dead here and it is here that Breivik was filmed as he coldly executed the teenagers as they lay scrambled on the rocks. Thirteen were found dead in the cute little hut along the shore. The red wooden building – Skolestua – lies only yards from where Breivik was eventually captured. Here, teens barricaded themselves in and waited frantically and in fear for their lives.

The end of the summer camp, in other times, would most likely have been a reason for regret; the holiday snaps and videos a source of amusement and nostalgia. The only hope seems to be to reclaim the spirit of the island and all that it stood for, while forever remembering those who lost their lives there. The mantra from AUF has not changed: “We shall take Utoeya back.”