Survivors of the July 22 massacre on Utøya were returning to the island on Friday as a special weekend of state-sponsored memorial ceremonies to honor victims and their families got underway. The memorials were to climax on Sunday afternoon with a large, national ceremony inside the Oslo Spektrum arena.
While grieving is expected to continue indefinitely, Norway’s official mourning period was due to conclude with the major event at Oslo Spektrum. It was broadcast live from 3pm on many Norwegian radio and TV channels.
The government, in cooperation with the Norwegian Parliament, invited survivors, bereaved families and others directly affected by the bombing of government headquarters and the shootings on Utøya. Included on the guest list were those who risked their own lives to help rescue terrified members of the Labour Party’s youth organization AUF, whose summer camp on the island came under attack by a right-wing extremist. They included vacationers at nearby Utvika Camping, who sailed out in small boats to try to rescue people swimming from the island in desperation.
Also invited were volunteers from the Red Cross and Norwegian People’s Aid, staff from Sundvolden Hotel (which served as an impromptu rescue center), police, health care workers, fire and other emergency personnel and soldiers who took part in the rescue operations.
The Royal Family, government ministers, members of the Norwegian and Sami parliaments, all Nordic prime ministers, members of other Scandinavian royal families, the diplomatic corps and the Church of Norway also attended the ceremony on Sunday.
‘Can’t be any worse’
Before that, however, government officials were offering survivors and bereaved family members opportunities to visit, if they wished, the island in the Tyri Fjord where most of the 77 victims of the July 22 terrorist attacks died. On Friday, families were invited to visit the scene where their loved ones, many of them teenagers, were shot and killed. Around 500 persons accepted the invitation.
One mother told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she thought a trip to the island would help her accept the death of her child. “We will lay down some flowers, light candles,” she said. “It can’t be any worse than what it has been the past few weeks.”
Each family was provided with a Red Cross host, while church and health care officials were also on hand to offer support. Police were also prepared to answer questions about the ongoing investigation into the attacks.
‘A dignified experience’
“We have planned this down to the last detail to ensure that the bereaved and the survivors will have as dignified an experience as possible, and can concentrate fully on what happened on the island,” Stig Væråmoen of the Nordre Buskerud Police District told NRK.
A bus fleet carried the mourners from Oslo to Utvika, from which they were ferried to the island. On Saturday, an estimated 1,000 members of AUF and survivors of the attack took part in a similar event. Neither was open for press coverage.
A separate opportunity to visit the site of the bombing of government headquarters was also arranged for bereaved families and survivors on Saturday. Government ministers were on hand along with health care workers, to help survivors come to terms with the devastation and the blast that killed eight persons.
Last funeral held
The last of the funerals for victims was held on Thursday, for 16-year-old girl Elisabeth Trønnes Lie, who was killed on Utøya. Her funeral was delayed because her 17-year-old sister Cathrine was seriously wounded in the attacks and wanted to attend, but wasn’t released from hospital until this week. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg also attended the funeral in Halden, as he has several others.
On Sunday, Stoltenberg, who has been widely hailed for his leadership during the crisis, planned to personally greet each of the bereaved at a buffet lunch to be held before the memorial ceremony at Oslo Spektrum. Efforts were also underway to organize formation of a national support group for the bereaved and survivors, to “provide them with a sense of community,” with an initial meeting scheduled for 10am at the Radisson Blu Hotel Plaza in Oslo.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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