After the Utoya Massacre

 On July 22,  2011, a car bomb near government buildings in the city of Oslo, Norway.   The massive explosion could be heard more than four miles away and created a shock wave that started fires in many of the nearby streets and filled the streets with glass and debris.  Eight people were killed outright in the blast and 209 others were injured, some seriously.  Witnesses reported that the driver of the van in which the bomb had been placed had been dressed as a policeman and had a gun in his hand.  Though several people called the police and reported his suspicious behaviour, he was still free to leave the van unattended and walk several blocks to where he had a second car parked.  But that bomb blast was only the beginning.

Two hours later, as police were still cordoning off the site of the Oslo blast, the driver of the van, a 32-year old right-wing extremist named Anders Breivik, boarded a ferry to Utoya Island not far from Oslo.  Breivik was still dressed as a police officer and carrying official identification giving his name as "Martin Nilsen" of the Oslo Police Department.  At the time, the island was the site of the annual youth camp hosted by the Norwegian Labour Party's Worker's Youth League.   About 600 teenagers were attending any nobody had any idea about the horror that was about to strike the camp.  

When Breivik arrived, he claimed to be a police officer conducting a security check following the Oslo bombing.   When staff members became suspicious, Breivik shot them to death and then asked people to gather around him before pulling weapons out of his bag and firing indiscriminately into the crowd.   Survivors later described what followed as a scene of terror as Breivik shot anyone he could find and then shot at people in the lake trying to swim for safety.   The mass shooting lasted for 90 minutes before Breivik calmly surrendered to a police task force that had arrived on the scene.   In all, 68 people were killed outright (one died later of his injuries) while another 110 people were wounded.   Most of the victims were teenagers with the youngest being fourteen years of age.    It was the deadliest attack in Norway since the end of World War 2.

Afterward, Breivik told police that the purpose of his attacks was to save Norway from a Muslim takeover.  His long and rambling manifesto had been released to the Internet that same morning.  Breivik had targeted the youth camp because Norway's Prime Minister had been making a speech there that same day though she had already left by the time he managed to reach the island..  Breivik's killing rampage, both the bombing and the mass shooting, sparked a media firestorm that lasted for weeks.  Along with calls for tighter security, the families of the victims found themselves under intense public scrutiny as they grieved their losses.  

 

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.

           

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