NEWS ANALYSIS: The hundreds of Norwegians who helped search for missing teenager Sigrid Giskegjerde Schjetne were getting together one last time on Wednesday, for a meeting in mourning after her body finally was found by police Monday night. Shock and sorrow prevailed as police launched into what’s now a full murder investigation.
The magnitude of the public interest in Schjetne’s disappearance August 4 has surprised many, including the police themselves. Her case elicited massive and relentless voluntary search efforts, around 3,000 tips and a deluge of media coverage over the past month.
People often disappear and sometimes are found dead or murdered, also in Norway, but the so-called Sigrid-saken (Sigrid case) stood out. Police investigators said they’d never experienced anything like the outpouring of interest and engagement in the Sigrid case.
Perhaps, as a commentator for newspaper Aftenposten suggested Wednesday morning, it was because the 16-year-old Sigrid was the proverbial “girl next door” for many Norwegians. She ate pizza with her family in the afternoon of that fateful Saturday and then headed off with a girlfriend to see one of the final matches at the annual football tournament Norway Cup. The weather had finally turned warm in Oslo, so she was wearing denim shorts and a tank top, with a hooded jacket in reserve. She’d won permission from her parents to stay out later than usual but she’d always been prompt, so when she failed to return home shortly after midnight as agreed, her parents immediately got worried.
What followed were nearly five weeks of anguish, uncertainty, the flood of tips and massive attention and support not only from friends and acquaintances but from total strangers as well. Now they all know Sigrid won’t ever return home and they’re left with a feeling that if she could be a murder victim, anyone can. Human vulnerability suddenly loomed large.
“We got the answer we didn’t want to get,” Gjermund Eide, a family friend who’s played a key role in the search for her, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “It’s a sad day and now we hope the family can have some peace.”
As police promised to reveal more information about their murder probe and what led to the arrests of two Norwegian men, aged 37 and 64, charged in Sigrid’s murder, some details were already emerging. Her body was found after a new, reportedly “concrete tip” came into Oslo police around 7pm Monday. They asked colleagues in the Follo Police District, who have jurisdiction over the area tipped at Kolbotn, to investigate. The body was found and the two men were arrested around 9pm.
They’ve been undergoing intense questioning ever since. The 37-year-old is registered as living in Ålesund and has a record of police convictions, including the assault of a young woman in 2007 for which he was sentenced to two years in prison. He’s reportedly suffered from psychosis and has threatened police. Neighbours have described him as both occasionally helpful but also a shut-in who spent lots of time in front of a computer.
The older suspect has lived on and off in Vestby, south of Oslo, on a property reportedly littered with wrecked cars, tires and garbage. “When I was child, we were told to stay away from his house,” one neighbour told Aftenposten. Both men, said to be friends, enjoyed working on cars and reportedly were so engaged when arrested together. They have each pleaded innocent, claim they’ve had nothing to do with Sigrid’s disappearance or murder and have alibis. Questions rose over whether Sigrid knew either of the men. Her parents, through their attorney Harald Stabell, said they knew of no connections and don’t know either suspect.
Meanwhile, officials at Sigrid’s school and the local church in Oppsal opened their doors last night for anyone with a need to gather, talk and grieve. Candles were lit, soft music played, flowers set out and a steady stream of people arrived at both places. More gatherings were scheduled today, including one for all the search volunteers at 6pm at Østensjø School.
“This is the nightmare that became reality,” Eide told NRK. “I think everyone can see themselves in this situation.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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