Lind: Reflecting on tragedy: Woman with Minnesota connection writes about Norway shootings
It all, she says, "is so horrible and so unreal that every now and then I stop and wonder, 'Did it really happen, or is it just a nightmare?' "
Tragically, it really happened. This past July, 69 people, primarily teenagers, were murdered on an island in Norway, and another eight people died in a bomb blast in Oslo. A man has been arrested in connection with both crimes.
Else Breines and her family, of Honefuss, Norway, were visiting relatives in northern Norway when the killer struck. Later, she wrote about her feelings and how her nation was coping to her Minnesota "parents," Ken and Gerrie Anderson; she was a foreign exchange student living with them in 1973-1974.
At that time, the Andersons were living in Windom, Minn., publishing its weekly newspaper. Earlier, they'd published weeklies in Battle Lake and Barnesville, Minn. Now they're retired and living at Henning, Minn.
Ken tells Neighbors he calls Else his "Nor-American daughter" because "she loves our country so much."
Else in turn writes Neighbors that "Mom and Dad Anderson always treated me like one of their own kids. I love them. Therefore I had to let them know my family and I were safe."
To the rescue
Else emailed the Andersons from Honefuss, only a few miles from Utoya Island, where the killings occurred.
Yes, her family was fine, she wrote. "The only thing that happened was that Arnulf (her son, 27) got orders to come back to work (with the King's Guard, a guard unit for Norway's king), but the order was changed as soon as they knew the attack was by one person and they had caught him.
"Some of Terje's personnel participated in the rescue work. (Terje is Else's husband, a construction engineer who also is a company commander in the National Guard). Some of them were available on very short notice and participated with their private boats in the rescue of kids who fled the island horror, jumped into the lake and swam the long, cold distance toward the mainland. This rescue started so soon that the rescuers actually were in danger of getting shot."
The island is used only for youth camps; nobody lives there permanently, Else says.
The youths at the camp were learning, she says, "about democracy, politics, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and all the things we value in our society.
"One of the grown-ups who was killed was the lady who was hostess for these young people every summer for the last 20 years. She was loved and respected by so many.
"Another was a policeman who was the security guard for the camps. He was also the stepbrother of our crown princess. He was killed as he tried to save the kids by confronting the murderer and trying to make him stop shooting."
An 'ordinary Norwegian'
Else writes Neighbors that she is "just one ordinary Norwegian, saddened by these horrible events but still believing in democracy and freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
"This murderer's sick agenda was to silence the young people who believed in these things and to scare the rest of us to silence."
But the people of Norway are rallying for each other. "We are so few in this country (only 5 million) that we have to take care of us all."
One day at noon, she says, "all of Norway held one minute of silence in remembrance of the victims. Cars stood still; shops were closed; conversation stopped; music stopped. Even in people's living rooms, it was quiet.
"I guess you understand," she writes, "that in this little country, we are all moved and saddened.
"But we are Norwegians, so we are also getting on with our lives. Terje and Arnulf are back at work. I am running back and forth, doing laundry and cooking and such. Elisabeth and Adam (Else and Terje's daughter and her husband, who had been visiting them) are getting ready to leave for their home in New York."
Still, with all this attempt to return to normalcy, she says, "quite a few people worry (about others in the country) and send their love, even to the murderer's parents; we can imagine their agony.
"The Norwegian people are telling this murderer that we will meet evil with love, and we trust our authorities to take proper care of this man who we believe must have been sick and also misguided for years."
"It is amazing," Ken writes Neighbors as a postscript, "how incredibly tolerant and forgiving the Norwegian people are."
How right he is.
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