UTOYA, Norway (AP) — Hundreds of teenagers arrived Friday at a summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utoya for the first time since a fanatic gunman killed 69 there and shook the small Scandinavian country.
William Reinemo said he was excited and looking forward to meeting “new people and old friends” on Utoya, where on July 22, 2011, self-styled “militant nationalist” Anders Behring Breivik gunned down mostly teenagers who had come for a weekend of political discussion and social events.
The 23-year-old Reinemo said it was “a bit strange to come back” after four years. “But we have to make new memories.”
The youth wing of Norway’s Labor Party organizes the traditional camp on the small island that it owns, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest the capital, Oslo. This year, it said, some 1,000 young people have enrolled — a record attendance.
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Echoes of cheers and shouts of young people playing football rang along the shoreline of the lake, surrounded by wooded hills draped in low-lying clouds, as the ferry docked onto the pier after a short boat ride from the mainland.
Camp participants beamed with enthusiasm, giving Mani Hussaini, leader of the youth organization, resounding applause as he welcomed them back.
“We are here. We have returned home,” Hussaini said.
The island has been renovated, with several of the traditional wooden rustic buildings refurbished to blot out some of the ugly evidence of the gunman’s destruction. A new cafeteria replaces the austere, dark-green wooden structure where 13 people were shot dead, with modern, Scandinavian-style glass-and-wood rooms for meetings and social activities.
A bright circular steel memorial engraved with victims’ names hangs suspended from pine trees on a secluded spot overlooking the gray Tyrifjorden lake. The youngest name is of a 14-year-old boy; the oldest — Breivik’s first target on the island — a 45-year-old security guard.
On a pine tree nearby, overlooking a field full of tents, messages from the victims’ friends hang from the branches.
For the teenagers, the camp is not only about honoring the past. It’s a chance to debate politics and carry forward the democratic ideals that Breivik sought to destroy.
Andreas Brandt, head of a local Labor youth group, describes the 2011 attack as a “really big smash in the face,” his voice quivering.
“Now we have to do something. I think everyone was thinking ‘I have to do something,'” he said.
Jon-Inge Sogn, father of 17-year-old Isabel who was killed during the attack, welcomed the return to the island.
“This is a little bit special because this is the first time in four years,” he said. “I feel it now when I see all the young people coming. And I hope they will have a good time, but (there) are some things that are also missing.”
Before arriving on the island dressed in police uniform, Breivik exploded a car bomb at the government quarter in Oslo, killing eight people. The twin attacks traumatized the small nation, with about one in four people affected through connections with family, friends or acquaintances of the victims.
Matti Huuhtanen contributed to this report from Helsinki, Finland.