Norway massacre: 'We could hear the gunshots getting closer'

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Lisa Marie Husby
Image caption,
Lisa was one of 650 people on Utoya island when Breivik came ashore

When Anders Breivik opened fire on youngsters attending a summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utoya, he carried out a massacre that to this day remains the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman anywhere in the world.

Among those taking part in the Labour Party youth camp was 17-year-old Lisa Marie Husby.

She was one of 650 young people gathered on the tiny island on 22 July 2011, when Breivik appeared dressed as a police officer and began shooting.

However, minutes before he arrived, Lisa had been on the phone to her mother in the wake of an explosion that had killed eight people in the centre of Oslo.

Lisa had been telling her mother that she was safe and that there was no need to worry because she was miles away from the Norwegian capital.

'Next target'

She said: "I wanted to tell her that I was far away from Oslo and I was safe. But as I talked to her, I heard the police cars leaving our part of Norway to go and help in Oslo and I told her this and she said 'I think you guys are the next target'.

"She just had a gut feeling and I said 'there's no way, we're on an island, we're safe' and then I hung up.

"Then a couple of minutes later I heard what I thought were fireworks."

Far right extremist Breivik went on to kill 69 youngsters, 33 of whom were under the age of 18. In total, he murdered 77 people that day, including those in Oslo.

Image source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption,
Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people in bomb and gun attacks

Speaking to Stephen Jardine on Radio Scotland's Kaye Adams programme, Lisa said in the hours before the shooting began, people had been considering going home because of the weather.

She said: "It was very rainy and usually the island is beautiful, but this day it was flooding.

"A lot of people were thinking about maybe going home, because we were sleeping in tents, and a lot of rain is not good for that.

"But everyone was in good spirits and we had the first female prime minister of Norway coming to see us and later we were going to have a disco so everyone was happy and having a good time."

'Horrible joke'

Then news of the terror attack in Oslo started to filter through to those in the camp.

Lisa said: "Some people wanted to go back to Oslo because they couldn't reach their family back there.

"But we realised it wasn't possible to go back to Oslo at that point because everything was closed - no buses, no trains or anything. We said the best thing to do was stay."

It was then that Lisa spoke to her mother and tried to reassure her about their position on the island.

She was with a group of a few dozen people, sheltered by a forest, who were about 50m (164ft) away when Breivik arrived on the island claiming to be there for security.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Locals gathered boats near the island to try and help those jumping into the water to escape

Then she began hearing what she thought was fireworks.

"Everyone was in shock at first, and I think we thought this is a horrible joke, this is too early to try and scare us.

"But then I realised seeing everyone who actually saw the gunman fleeing, that this was actually not a joke."

Lisa said her group were standing next to their tents looking confused by the sound of gunfire.

She said: "I don't think they understood what was going on. A lot of the people who actually saw what happened were fleeing, but this group were sheltered and they couldn't see what was happening, so they were just standing there not knowing what to do."

She added: "This island is very small. You can walk across it in 10 minutes. It's a lot of cliffs and trees everywhere. At the time, I didn't even think that I could get off the island by swimming, I didn't even think that I was on an island - I just thought I have to run and hide."

'Kept running'

Lisa gathered the group and then ran through the forest to a cabin that had previously been used as a medical base.

She said: "By the time we got to the cabin, they had actually prepared for attack. They had had a drill earlier that week in case of attack so they had already barricaded the doors and blocked the windows by the time we got into the cabin.

"We managed to get in, but then I got completely shocked and scared and thought I needed to get back out.

"They said: 'if you go we will lock the door behind you', but I still kept running.

"And then I saw this girl who was shot and I decided to go back in because I realised how serious things were then."

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Terrified youngsters hid in the woods, with some jumping into the water to escape the hail of bullets.

In total, 47 students, including Lisa, barricaded themselves into the cabin, hiding as best they could.

"At this point there was so many gunshots because of the automatic gun he was using, so we thought there was more than one shooter.

"We just hid under beds and tried to get into the small rooms inside the cabin and shelter ourselves from what was going on outside. We could hear the gunshots getting closer and further away and then suddenly they were very close."

Lisa and the other students heard Breivik try the door. When he could not get in he fired two shots through the window before walking off.

Frantic calls

"We didn't know how long it would take the police to get to the island," Lisa said. "We could hear boats outside, but that turned out to be civilians helping out the people who had fled or who had tried to get out by swimming.

"And we could also hear helicopters, but that turned out to be news helicopters."

The 47 students spent more than four terrifying hours inside the cabin.

During that time they were receiving frantic calls from their families, who had warned them that the gunman was reportedly posing as a police officer.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Breivik shot 69 people dead on the island of Utoya during his rampage

The group had also decided that if Breivik entered the cabin they would lie still and pretend to be dead.

Lisa said: "The last message that I got from my family at the time was 'don't trust the police they say online that he's dressed as the police so don't trust anyone who says that they're from the police'.

"When we were just waiting, it got very quiet and the gunshots stopped.

"People started to come out from their hiding places because it got very, very quiet."

Lisa said that at this point the police suddenly stormed the cabin.

She said: "They told us to get on the floor with our hands above our head. We thought these people are here to kill us."

Immediately surrendered

Lisa said she later learned that officers stormed the cabin unaware whether or not Breivik was inside with hostages.

"After the police came in we thought we were dead, we said our goodbyes. Then they asked is he here and I thought 'who's here - it's the terrorist' and then we understood they're not here to take us, they're actually looking for him."

As soon as he was confronted by officers, Anders Breivik immediately surrendered.

He was later jailed for 21 years following a trial that Lisa decided to attend.

She said she was struck by how small Breivik appeared in the dock and how sad it was that such a person could cause so much harm.

Image caption,
Lisa now studies at the University of St Andrews after being shown around the town by her partner Richard

For two years following the massacre Lisa tried to continue her life in Norway.

However, in 2013 her ordeal finally took its toll.

She said: "Something this traumatic is not going to leave you ever.

"So trying to go back to being a normal teenager again was very, very difficult.

"It started off with nightmares, a lot of flashbacks to the day. My nightmares sometimes got really, really bad where I woke up in the middle of the night actually believing that I was shot."

Sense of determination

Lisa said she developed a sense of being on auto-pilot and of being an observer in her own life.

She then spent a year in intensive treatment, during which she learned to talk about her experiences and their aftermath.

She developed a sense of determination that "this one day in July wouldn't define my entire life."

Months later, Lisa met her partner Richard in Norway and she began to put her life back together.

She said: "He took me to St Andrews to show me around one day and I just completely fell in love.

"I said 'maybe this is what I need. I need to get out of Norway and try and study abroad' and that's always been a dream."

In 2016 Lisa began studying at the University of St Andrews in Fife and has since become an advocate for raising awareness about issues relating to mental health.