Monday, July 25th, 2011

Norwegian geek Tore Sinding Bekkedal was at the Labour Youth event on Utøya when Anders B. Breivik’s terrorist-attack plans unfolded:

Our former Prime Minister and current labour movement demigod Gro Harlem Brundtland had recently left the island. I had been the cameraman for a video interview of her talking about Utøya, and I was in the media group room encoding the video into a file suitable for YouTube, when someone else in the room startled and said that Twitter was full of messages about a loud explosion in Oslo. As the newspapers brought us information about the extent of the damages, a consensus arose that an informational meeting was in order. As soon as the current round of talks finished, we were gathered into the main hall.

The meeting was duly held, and after the statement was made that a TV feed would be made available, I took it upon myself as the local alpha geek to make it happen. Of course, the situation caused both the wireless network and the GPRS networks to become totally unusable. As I was waiting for someone to set up a password, I took the opportunity to face the consequences of having eaten two bits of a microwavable dish called “Hold-It” — the local equivalent of a Hot Pocket — and went to the toilet.

As I was in there, I first heard agitated shouting, then screams, then gunshots coming from just outside the toilets. More than anything else, it sounded like a toy gun. I was convinced that someone was making a joke in incredibly bad taste and I stormed out of the booth with the intent of halting it. As I tore the door open, I saw two of my comrades hiding in a recessed corner. Their facial expressions left absolutely no doubt that this was no toy. They signalled for me to get back in the booth. I closed the door, did a mental double-take in utter, complete confusion, and opened it again. They were still signalling. Had they not stood there, I would have run straight into the gunman; they saved my life. I looked out into the hallway, and I made eye contact with a young boy lying in a pool of blood. He was motioning for me to help him. I heard more gunshots from inside the building and retreated back inside.

As I was trying to think through my next move, I realized that the decidedly insubstantial wood-fiber door would not resist any kind of bullets. I made my way out into the hallway, with the intent of escaping outside. At that point, I was of course not aware that there was an intention to kill as many as possible, so I thought that the open spaces outside would be a place of relative safety. Of course, this proved to be wrong — and my life was probably saved a second time by one of the café volunteers taking me into a hard-to-spot employee’s bathroom.

We sat there for ninety minutes. Always ready to make a run for it, ready for just about anything. A peculiar group dynamic arose with these two people with whom I had barely previously spoken. We came to share a strange sense of common destiny and gallows humour. One of them had seen the shooter and described the police uniform. I perceived it to be realistic that we were the only ones aware of the wounded outside the toilet. I tried to reach the emergency services, but all their lines were busy; the terror attack in Oslo had probably clogged their lines. I finally got through to the fire services, who could inform me that the police did know about the situation and were on their way. This was to take 90 minutes — and by the time we evacuated, the young boy outside my door had perished. The despair I first saw in his eyes as I passed him, fleeing from one room to the other — and the empty, blank stare as we left, are burned into me and they are images I will never in my life forget.

Finally, the real police arrived. We walked out. I chose the path through the minor conference hall  something I now regret. The sight was simply beyond my capacity to describe fully, and so terrifying that I barely remember the sight  only the terror it struck in me. There were several people bunched up in a corner, a big amorphous heap of bodies. Some were conscious and yelled at me not to do anything that could startle the police, others lay still. Their bodies were all covered in blood, and a thick pool of blood extended at least a half-metre in all directions around them. The policeman across the hall was screaming orders at me, but he was screaming so loudly that I couldn’t make out his words at first.

We were first moved into the camp newspaper’s offices. There were about eight of us there, I think, in addition to one girl who lay wounded. Towards the end she was drifting in and out of consciousness. We covered her with sweaters to keep her warm and one of us tried to at least temper her bleeding. The bullet had missed her heart, but by the entry wound it was clear that it was not by far. I do not know who this girl was or how she is now. I sat behind and never saw her face. The wounded were evacuated first. I don’t remember how long we remained; I had lost all concept of time.

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