An 18 year-old camper at Utøya summer camp in Norway has published his first-hand account of the tragedy last Friday.It was Morten Hellesø Johansen’s second time at the camp, and he had been a part of the Worker’s Youth League (AUF) for two years. He initially published this record of the shootings on a number of blogs and was interviewed on a Swedish news program right after the fact.
He agreed to share his experiences with Business Insider, declaring that “it should be told as much and detailed [sic] as possible.” He added in a chat that writing and talking about what happened have helped him to deal with his emotions following the tragedy.
Here is his story:
“Utøya was a summer camp arrangement for the Norwegian labour camp’s youth wing. I and some friends went to the camp last summer, and I had a great time and got many precious friends there.
Although it is a political arrangement, many people aren’t there because they feel any particular love for the labour party, but because they want to party and make friends, me included. At utøya I also discovered that I actually can sing.
It is a lush and peaceful place, and although it is small, it has some very pretty nature…
The night before the incident, I had been on Karaoke and sang “without me” by Eminem, and “Stand by my me” by Ben E. King. I nailed it. Later that night I saw “the King’s speech”. Really cool movie, by the way.
My tent-mates had brought two other girls into the tent that evening, so technically I was kicked out for that night. I proceeded to clean up the camp for garbage. The County with the dirtiest camp would have to clean up the latrines on the last day, I didn’t want any of that.
Later I went on to grab my sleeping bag and went to sleep on one of the performing platforms outside. I was later ordered to sleep in the “school hut”, the same building I would later cling to my life in that day.
When I woke up, it was your average day, aside from the heaviest rain so far this summer at that point. Turns out me cleaning up the camp saved a lot of people’s equipment. I also had a huge mosquito bite on my upper lip.
After some obligatory meetings, I went back to the “school hut” to recharge my iPhone and proceeded to take a nap. I suddenly woke up because someone charged into the house, saying something about an explosion and Oslo.
I got up…I tried to find out what people were talking about by using the “toilet internet” on my phone, but I couldn’t get anything to load. So I went to the main hall where there is wireless internet to use.
I could then hear about a bomb that had gone off in Oslo. Many rumours went around, we didn’t know if it was a gas pipe or a bomb. Utøya is a one hour drive from Oslo, and many of the people in the camp was from Akershus County.
My camp was listening to our personal radio, a neat thing my best friend got in America that we could recharge manually or with solar power. Many were crying or calling their relatives. And in what would within just an hour or two become gruesome irony, I sent an SMS to my relatives that there had been a bomb in Oslo, but that I was safe.We then all had to gather in the main meeting hall, where we received information about the bomb and what the camp would do. The day’s schedule had been cancelled (wouldn’t have mattered if they didn’t).
What you should know is that at this point, ABB [gunman Anders Behrig Breivik] was already on the island. He could have taken us all right there! He intentionally didn’t! He probably wanted a “hunt”; we don’t know.
Around 20 or so minutes after the meeting, we heard the first shots. Previously, I had predicted that someone was going to try to scare people by using firecrackers or something similar.
A horde of youth started running from the “waffle tent” area, and one grown man was basically sprinting through the woodwork of the forest, trying to get away. Some of us in the camp yelled for people to calm down, seeing what looked like it was about to turn into a deadly stampede.
Then the shots continued, and we in the camp started to move at jogging speed towards the “school hut” just in case.
The cracks continued with increased intensity, many people were screaming hysterically, several were disoriented. Many were shouting things angrily, and as we picked up a running pace with our heads lowered, I yelled, “If this still is a joke, we’re going to hang the perpetrator in a tree […],” I was cut off by the instantly recognisable noise of shotgun fire.
That was the point at which my rational side became certain that something really bad was going down.
When running through the path in the woods, my friend suddenly stopped and asked where his sister was. Had I not seen her actually having been running ahead of us, and then replied “I don’t know”, then I am dead sure he’d run right back to the camp to find her.
Two people of the medical staff were telling everyone approaching to quickly enter the house. As I closed in on it, I already felt that it was a rat cage. The second alternative in my head was to run into the sea right behind the house.
The main living room was already crammed with some 30 people. Many were crying, several were shouting around to find out what was going on, or trying to find out if certain people had also entered the building.
The room was really cramped by people sitting/standing around all the overturned furniture, etc, so I quickly skipped into one of the closest side rooms, sat down on a bed and put my head in my hands.
I started to try to gain full control of my breathing, and I tried to hold back my body’s shaking as much as possible.
Photo: Morten Johansen
Some people started barricading the windows and others started moving into the other side rooms.I then heard a girl come in the main living room, probably no older than 15-16 years old, screaming in tears, “He is shooting at us, he’s going to kill us!“
At first I thought it was just someone having snapped and had a nervous breakdown, but then I noticed she had just entered the building. Then she was led into the room I was sitting alone in by the two medical staff workers. I saw she was holding out her right arm. It was bleeding. The medics patiently got her to calm herself and not to panic and asked her about the injuries.
I then noticed the wounds. Two small round wounds, not usually eye-catching, but I recognised those wounds: Shotgun pellets. He had fired from a distance, and the long range caused only a minor amount of the pellets to reach, two of which got stuck in her arm.
Everything in me, even the optimistic side, was utterly convinced about the nature of the incident from then on. Our lives were in danger.
People completed the barricades and locked the door, we heard some of the shooting come closer and everyone poured into the side-rooms.
In my room was only the two medics (who were the only “adults” in the building), the wounded girl and me.
We then shut the curtains (in the other rooms, they barricaded the windows, but we didn’t have the manpower to do it, and decided we didn’t have the time), and hid under the bed. The male medic was too big to fit under the beds, so he let the wounded girl get the space. Under another bunk, I was laying with the female medic, me being the one closest to the wall.
There isn’t much to say about that part. We were laying there silently, not making a noise for 1 and a half hour, listening to the shooting. It is strangely similar to counting the second between lightning strikes and the thunder when you have Astraphobia.
At some point, we heard screams not too far from the building.
One of these screams still scar my mind. I am certain that it was the death scream of someone who then was finished off. I won’t go into detail about that.
I was wishing for him to off himself like a lot of maniacal shooters have a tendency to do.
But then at one point, he tried to break into the building.
It was the most terrifying part of it all, and for a moment, I considered my life forfeit.
The feeling of helplessness was crushing.
We first heard him outside, then he tried to open the door, but it was locked. Then he fired two or three shots with the shotgun into the house through the glass in the door.
Some girls in another room screamed in terror.
My mind rushed. Fight or flight. How would I do that? I was blocked by the medic. Even then, how could I resist him if I wasn’t? Ambush him at the door? Next to impossible.
Flee? I would probably dead before I got out of the window, and even then I would have to rely on luck not to get shot outside.
Suddenly everything was silent. Adrenaline rushed, seconds turned into minutes. He had left. I was certain at the time that he was simply walking around the house, looking for some fool to look out the window.
We then heard gunshots in the distance. He really had left. Why? WHY?! We didn’t get it! He could easily have fired at the lock with the shotgun and then break in.
We don’t know why he suddenly left. I have theorized that since the room was dark due to barricaded windows and shut off lights, and then the sight of the sheer amount of side-rooms, made him decide not to break in. He probably thought it risky, as he didn’t know the amount of us, and there was a chance that he would end up swarmed by terrified and adrenaline rushed people. And when considering that possibility yes, it was logical for him to at least wait with trying to take us. If he had gotten in a brawl with several people, he would have been overpowered, and maybe even killed in many different ways.
It would jeopardize his mission much sooner than he would have risked.
But it is only a possibility.
The rest was more waiting, and some text messages being exchanged between family and survivors. Eventually the police decided to break in, and the SWAT team swarmed the building, telling everyone to get on the ground (no problem, as most already were) and show their hands.
When I heard them at the front entrance I had started to crawl out from the bed and started texting my mother, but then realised I shouldn’t be doing it right now, so I quickly dropped the phone laid down on my back and made my hands visible right before a fully armed Police man entered the room, with an M-4 with laser sight and a flash light attached. After evaluating the people in the room, he quickly and loudly asked for any wounded, I and one of the medics quickly pointed to the girl. He went over to her and asked for where the injury was, and then grabbed her hand to evaluate the injury.
He yelled the location of a wounded and then left the room.
Eventually the lights were turned on and the police men were done with the search. I sat down in the bed, stretched out my sore muscles and let the feeling of security replace the fear regarding damage to myself and those in the house.
The girl finally managed to have a proper conversation on the phone with her mother.
Her calmness was admirable, as she had to ask her mother to breathe.
She explained that her injuries weren’t critical, that she was going to the hospital and that she was now safe.
I asked her name and thanked her for her admirable control, which really helped me stay in my skin. The male medic was then standing by her, with an obvious sense of relief on his face and tears in his face. I then said said something along the lines of “We survived this”. He then looked at me and asked, “You wouldn’t mind if I give you hug, right?”
I didn’t, and gave him a powerful hug. At that point my mind was somewhat hazed, but I remember thanking the medics for their hard work.
I remembered that I hadn’t seen my friends again yet, so I went into the main living room where everyone had gathered by now.
I then called out to them. They turned around, yelled my name and at least one of them gave me a nearly bone breaking hug. Due to the circumstances, they didn’t know that I had entered the building, and thus had been worrying about me.
Probably something along the lines of 6 different people borrowed my phone, as many didn’t have their phones on them when the shooting started. I was also so lucky in the unluck that I had my bankcard on me too, which was really neat for later.
I then called my mother and brother. My mother told me that 7 people had been confirmed killed.
That hit me like a punch to the crotch. I had heard that no one was confirmed dead, but many wounded. Of course I held that to be unrealistic, but I never thought about it.
I then also realised that at least four other friends weren’t in the building. I became nervous and had to start to calm down. Then I thought of some friends that decided not to come to camp that year, but who was there last year.
I was so happy that they didn’t come, within a few seconds my otherwise calm appearance broke down. It had been half an hour since the police stormed the building. I cried. I cried of a nature I had never cried in my life.
It was a mixture of panic, despair, feeling of dread (that I had kept at bay), happiness, helplessness.
I had already known I was probably going to break down later, since I was so calm during the shooting.
The wounded girl was then escorted out of the house first, as she had higher priority.
We were then ordered to stand in two lines, keep our hands out of our pockets and not do anything sudden. Then we had to run/jog to the ferry place like that.
At the information building, we then saw Anders, but most of us didn’t know he was the killer at the time. Had we known, several of us would have assaulted him, police beating or not.
When on the ferry, we were all counted and shipped over. On the other side we saw five corpses covered by white blankets right next to where we went in land.
Some people started screaming hysterically. I was utterly pissed at the people who placed the bodies there right in our sight. I’m not angry at them further than that. We were taken care of well, checked for injuries, counted and registered and then taken to the hotel that was then turned into a crisis centre.
I then found all my missing friends alive and well (some cooled down a bit and some stubbed toes and scratches, they all had stories to tell).
All in all, I probably am one of those with the milder stories from that Island.
On that day, I lost no one I knew personally, but we were all at some point so close to lose everything.
I sincerely thank you for taking your time to read this story. I believe it should be told as much and detailed as possible.
I’ve already been to three interviews, but only this one have gotten in so many detail of my own experience.
Of course, the story didn’t end there. It still goes on, and I hope we can all learn from history, and that this is a wake-up call to everyone.
Many of my perspectives have changed.
I treasure my and other’s lives more than before, I still struggle with some traumas, and I have a small case of Paranoia.
Hell during after the experience, I did not become religious, and not once did I plead to some deity. People pulled me through, and only people could help. Please do not use the term “archangel”, because I find it insulting due to the sheer amount of people that died. But I’m glad me and my loved ones are alive.
I want to return to that Island next year. It is the best way to honour the memory of those who died by showing that I’m not afraid, and I’m not silenced!
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