Messages offered mother, daughter hope amid carnage on Norwegian island

Posted July 27, 2011, at 8:39 p.m.
Last modified July 27, 2011, at 9:15 p.m.

OSLO, Norway — Over the more than 90 minutes that gunshots echoed around her, Julie Bremnes was able to call her mother just once. A crazy man was shooting, the 16-year-old said. People were dying.

Marianne Bremnes, more than 800 miles away from Friday’s youth-camp massacre on the Norwegian island of Utoya, couldn’t make her stay on the phone — it was too dangerous.

Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday his country will never be the same after last week’s bombing and mass shooting but it shouldn’t change the way the suspect wants it to. He called on his country to react by more tightly embracing, rather than abandoning, the culture of tolerance that Anders Behring Breivik said he was trying to destroy.

“The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation,” insisted at a news conference.

Friday’s bombing outside Stoltenberg’s offices in Oslo and the shooting that followed at a camp organized by the youth wing of his Labor Party killed 76 people and battered the psyche of a nation that prides itself on openness. Breivik confessed but has pleaded not guilty, claiming the attacks were necessary to fight what he called Muslim colonization and multiculturalism.

Marianne Bremnes said in a telephone interview Wednesday that while the violence was under way on the island, “I didn’t know what to do other than ask [Julie] to text me.”

So she did. Beginning at 5:42 p.m., Julie texted regularly while hiding along the rocky shore, trading vital information and words of love with her mother. Their full conversation follows, translated from Norwegian:

Julie: Mum, tell the police to hurry. People are dying here!

Marianne: I am working on it, Julie. The police are on their way. Do you Dare give me a call?

Julie: No.

Julie: Tell the police that a madman is running around shooting people.

Julie: They have to hurry!

Marianne: The police know about it and they have received many messages. It is going to be fine, Julie. The police are calling us now. Give us a sign of life every fifth minute, please?

Julie: OK

Julie: We are in fear of our lives!

Marianne: I understand that well, my love. Stay under cover, don’t move to another place! The police are already on their way, if they have not already arrived. Do you see injured or killed?

Julie: We are hiding in the rocks along the coast.

Marianne: Good! Should I ask your grandpa to come and pick you up when everything is safe? It is your choice.

Julie: Yes

Marianne: We are contacting grandpa right away.

Julie: I love you, even though I may yell at you sometimes.

Julie: And I am not panicking, even though I’m s—- scared.

Marianne: I know that, my girl. We love you very much too. Do you still hear shooting?

Julie: No.

Marianne, at home in the northern city of Harstad, was trying to be strong.

“I had to be calm for her,” the 46-year-old said. “She also remained calm so it was easier for me to remain calm.

“I heard from her every five minutes — she did what I told her to do,” Marianne said. “The whole time I knew how she was and where she was. It helped me and I guess it helped her.”

But Julie’s ordeal wasn’t over. The break in gunfire was just a lull. The gunman, dressed as a policeman, ran loose on the island for about 90 minutes while police struggled to get there from Oslo, just 25 miles away.

About 6:15 p.m., Julie offered what sounded like hopeful news — but her mother warned her to be careful:

Marianne: Have you heard anything of the others from Tromsoe? Grandpa is on his way down.

Julie: The police are here.

Marianne: The person shooting apparently wear a police uniform. Be careful! What is happening to you now?

Julie: We don’t know.

Marianne: Can you talk now?

Julie: No.

Julie: He’s still shooting!

Julie sent that panicked text message about 6:30 p.m., about the time Anders Behring Breivik surrendered. Breivik is accused of killing 68 people on the island and setting off a massive explosion that killed eight people outside government headquarters in Oslo earlier that afternoon.

There were several more nervous exchanges, along with some good news about a fellow camper, before Julie and her mother realized she was safe:

Marianne: Joergen has swum to shore. I have just spoken to his father.

Marianne: This is all over national news now, full attention on Utoya now. Be careful! When you get the chance, you get back to the mainland and meet grandpa from Hamar.

Julie: I am still alive.

Marianne: Thank God for that.

Julie: We are waiting for the police to pick us up.

Julie: We heard shooting just now, so we dared not walk there.

Marianne: Good! The evacuation is going on now, they’re saying on TV.

Julie: We hope someone will pick you up soon. Can’t they catch him soon?!!

Marianne: The anti-terror police is there, and they are working on getting him.

Marianne: Should we try to get a flight ticket home tomorrow?

Julie: I’ve no time to think about that now.

Marianne: I understand.

Julie: Do you know if they’ve got him?

Marianne: I’ll keep you posted, my girl. We’re following the TV constantly.

Marianne: Hey, are you there?

Julie: Yes. The helicopters are circling over us.

Marianne: Then you have been spotted?

Julie: They are looking for people in the water, they haven’t picked us up yet!

Marianne said at one point, Julie emerged from her hiding place when she saw a helicopter and waved her pink rain jacket to attract attention. It wasn’t the police, but a news crew that had filmed Breivik surrounded by bodies piled up on the shore and in the water.

“If she had been at the wrong spot she would have been killed,” Marianne said.

Instead, by 7:01 p.m., relief for the family was nearly at hand:

Julie: What’s on the news?

Marianne: The police are also on a boat to Utoya, otherwise nothing new. It is not clear what happened to the gunman, so you stay still. Wait for someone to pick you up.

Marianne: Now they’ve got him!

When Julie called her mother again, she was on a rescue boat. She was safe.

“And she cried,” Marianne said. “I cried and she cried.”

Mother and daughter were reunited Saturday evening, when Julie flew back to northern Norway with other survivors from the region.

Julie lost five friends in the shooting. Marianne said her daughter is holding up well — but she worries about the future.

“She is fine,” Bremnes said. “But I don’t know about the long-term aspects of it.”

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