by Ian MacDougall and Louis Nordstrom
Police arrived at an island massacre about 90 minutes after a gunman first opened fire, slowed because they didn’t have quick access to a helicopter and then couldn’t find a boat to make their way to the scene just several hundred metres offshore.
Survivors of the shooting spree have described hiding and fleeing into the water to escape the gunman, but a police briefing Saturday detailed for the first time how long the terror lasted – and how long victims waited for help.
A SWAT team was dispatched to the island more than 50 minutes after people vacationing at a campground said they heard shooting across the lake, according to Police Chief Sveinung Sponheim. The drive to the lake took about 20 minutes, and once there, the team took another 20 minutes to find a boat.
Footage filmed from a helicopter that showed the gunman firing into the water added to the impression that police were slow to the scene. They chose to drive, Sponheim said, because their helicopter wasn’t on standby.
“There were problems with transport to Utoya,” where the youth-wing of Norway’s left-leaning Labour Party was holding a retreat, Sponheim said. “It was difficult to get a hold of boats.”
Aerial images broadcast by Norway’s TV2 showed members of a SWAT team dressed in black arriving at the island in boats and running up the dock.
People who had stripped down to their underwear moved in the opposite direction, swimming away from the island toward the mainland, some using flotation devices.
The assailant surrendered when police finally reached him, but at least 85 people were killed on the island, and police said four or five people were still missing.
Divers have been searching the surrounding waters, and Sponheim said the missing may have drowned. Police earlier said there was still an unexploded device on the island, but it later turned out to be fake.
Asked whether all victims at Utoya died from gunshot wounds or if some had drowned, Stoere, the foreign minister, said “you will likely see a combination”.
A 15-year-old camper named Elise who was on Utoya said she heard gunshots, but then saw a police officer and thought she was safe. Then he started shooting people right before her eyes.
“I saw many dead people,” said Elise, whose father, Vidar Myhre, didn’t want her to disclose her last name. “He first shot people on the island. Afterward he started shooting people in the water.”
Elise said she hid behind the same rock that the killer was standing on. “I could hear his breathing from the top of the rock,” she said.
She said it was impossible to say how many minutes passed while she was waiting for him to stop.
At a hotel in the village of Sundvollen, where survivors of the shooting were taken, 21-year-old Dana Berzingi wore pants stained with blood. He said the fake police officer ordered people to come closer, then pulled weapons and ammunition from a bag and started shooting.
Several victims “had pretended they were dead to survive,” Berzingi said. But after shooting the victims with one gun, the gunman shot them again in the head with a shotgun, he said.
“I lost several friends,” said Berzingi, who used the mobile phone of one of those friends to call police.