'People were being shot in the water as they tried to swim away'
Those trapped on Utoya were desperate to escape a gunman who displayed a chilling efficiency. After their ordeal, some spoke to Charlotte Sundberg
Sunday 24 July 2011
'I was far away from the place when he first started shooting. Everything seemed peaceful before it broke loose. We could hear gunshots, but we thought it was fireworks at first. The shooting started between 5.15 and 5.30pm. People then started screaming and running in a panic.
They shouted that we had to get our heads down to the ground. That's when I got really scared and realised something was very wrong.
I started running down a hill and threw myself down a steep slope towards the water. We found a mountain shelf a bit further down, where we all hid. There were 10 or 12 people hiding there.
It was hidden from the footpath right above us. The shooter couldn't see us where we were hiding. We had to stay completely still for him not to notice us.
I saw people falling in the water after being shot. People were getting shot while they were trying to swim away. People were injured or dead on the footpath above me.
I heard a lot of screaming, and then he was standing on the path right above me.
It was quiet. I could hear his footsteps getting closer. I could hear him change the chamber on his gun.
We were trying to lie as still as we possibly could. He started shooting again. A lot of people got hit by the shots and fell into the water. I couldn't think clearly.
I think he was shouting and screaming as well, almost as if he was celebrating. I'm not sure it was him, but it sounded like it was because everyone else was quiet. It wasn't the previous screams of fear, agony or panic.
We were there on the mountain shelf for two hours, hiding, trying to stay as quiet as possible. Then the helicopters flew in and the police came, followed by ambulances.
Volunteers came with their boats to help get injured people off the island. All the injured were sent off the island in an order depending on how bad their injuries were. We were sent to the hotel.
Back at the hotel, some people said they thought there were two shooters. Some people said they were chased by someone with dark hair, but I didn't see anyone like that.
At the hotel, parents were asking us where their children were: it was terrible. A lot of people are still missing. We don't know who's in the hospital and who's alive.
A friend of mine is in the hospital: her condition isn't life-threatening any more, but it is serious.
What's happened is just beyond belief."
Nicoline Bjerge Schie, 21, was on Utoya, attending the Labour Youth meeting when the attack happened
It came out of the blue. We felt this huge explosion, then a powerful force through our legs. I looked out of the shop window and saw shattered buildings and carnage everywhere. Ours was the only one which seemed to be still intact.
There was smoke and ash everywhere, loads of debris and dust in our eyes. We walked and saw huge slabs of concrete and bits of road all torn up.
Then I knew what happened. We went round the other side of the VG building [a Norwegian tabloid newspaper] and saw three bodies on the ground. There was a lot blood and glass. I saw two policemen carrying a blond-haired woman who was clearly unconscious. She had blood streaming out of her head. I'd be surprised if she made it. It was horrific. You don't expect this in Oslo. I've always felt safe in Oslo but this is strange, really strange.
Ben Symes, eyewitness in Oslo
We gathered in small groups talking about the bombings in Oslo. We then heard someone shout: "The police are here, we are now safe."
I then saw a policeman coming down the hill and suddenly he started shooting people, one by one.
We ran and jumped out into the sea when we saw boats coming. We shut everything out. we just wanted to stay safe and help each other.
The gunman had a police uniform – that was probably most frightening.
He was calm. He never ran – he just kept shooting people. I never heard him speak.
Stine Renate Haheim, eyewitness
We were told to find people in the water. The first thing we found were four children, two boys and two girls, who swam in the water. They shouted for help and were powerless and could barely lift their arms.
There were people crying for help everywhere. We saw children who hid in caves and on cliffs. They dared not come out until we said that the person who shot was taken. Then they started weeping.
One person had seen someone shot in the head, and we also saw several dead bodies in the water.
Because we had such a small boat, we could not take many with us at a time.
We were there early, so it was frustrating, but fortunately several boats eventually arrived.
Lise Berit Aronsen, Member of the public who helped with the rescue in Utoya
I laid down and acted as if I was dead. He stood maybe two metres away from me. I could hear him breathing. I could feel the heat of the machine gun.
He tried everyone, he kicked them to see if they were alive, or he just shot them.
When I saw him from the side yelling that he was about to kill us, he looked like he was taken from a Nazi movie or something.
The gunman was very sure, calm and controlled. He looked like he knew what he was doing. We all started to run down to the water, people had already undressed and started swimming. I thought I didn't have enough time to take off my clothes, so I started swimming in the rain, in my clothes and big boots.
I went for about 150 metres but the lake is about 800 metres long. I realised I wouldn't make it so I turned back.
I saw him standing 10 metres from me, shooting at the people who were swimming. He aimed his machine gun at me and I screamed at him, "No, please no, don't do it." I don't know if he listened to me but he spared me.
Adrian Pracon, eyewitness
I saw my best friend through the window and wondered if I should go out and bring him to me. I did not. I saw fear in his eyes. I sought cover behind a sort of brick wall.
We were many. I prayed, prayed, prayed. I hope that God saw me. I called Mum and said that it was not safe, would we meet again.
I said several times that I loved her. I heard fear in her voice. She cried.
The killer started shooting. He shot those around me. I was lying. I think [sic]: "Now it's over. He's here. Now I'm dying."
I decided that if lay down, I would play dead. I would not run or swim. I cannot describe the fear, what I felt.
Prableen Kaur, deputy head of the Oslo Youth Labour Movement
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