THE BLOG

Mass Murder in Norway --- Why Utoya Matters

06/19/2015 03:18 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2016

It's not what is Utoya? It's where is Utoya? Utoya is the small island where 69 Norwegian children were murdered almost four years ago at a youth camp in Norway.

Utoya is about extremism and domestic terrorism. Utoya is about the 'slaughter of innocents' and madness. Utoya is about remembrance and unending grief. About a parent's worst nightmare coming true, and the capacity to kill in great numbers in the safest and most remote place of the globe.

Utoya is not the beginning chapter of a history of violence in inflicting the greatest wound on the weakest victims. It is but one large paragraph of an atrocity so unfathomable that paralyzes and numbs.

Utoya is a violation of humanitarian principles and moral ethics. Utoya is now a painful fact. Utoya happened on July 22, 2011. It's imperative to understand for those who seek to prevent 'a next one', and, for those who seek to prepare for the surety of 'a next one'.

Now, Utoya is about disaster spiritual care and, not compounding an injury that may never heal, by not protecting the survivors and all those who knew them and loved them. And, about the information and reassurance that will be impossible to absorb and manage, and, yet be crucial to knowing, and, the option of knowing. How did my love one die? Where did my love one die?
Who were they with or near? How long did they suffer? Where did the bullet(s) enter?

Utoya is about accountability and responsibility. Was there an emergency response plan? Was there security or protection even for the extremely remote possibility that something could happen?

Yes, the children were searched for drugs and weapons before boarding the ferry that carried them across the 1600 feet of water that separated the island from the mainland.

Was it a reasonable "failure of the imagination" that the teenage children and their chaperones would be safe at a political party summer camp in a natural paradise?

How do you answer questions that may never have an acceptable answer?

Some considerations can be made to assist those who respond to critical events as they seek to care for those with profound instant imaginable wounds:

1) Be prepared wherever you are. Knowledge lessens anxiety. Have a disaster plan and teach and practice the plan. Don't be afraid and don't be stupid. Know that these horrible events inspire more horrible events. The person convicted of the Utoya mass murders was able to assemble the bomb used as a distraction with the same information online that the Oklahoma City Federal Building, London Underground, and Madrid train bombers used. Fact.

2) Whether claimed as an 'act of war' or 'criminal event', first things first. Search and Rescue, before rescue and recovery. Make an assessment as best as one can. Is the location of the event safe---both for casualties and responders? Anticipate a secondary event to wound those who respond?

3) Terror may not be 'random.' Orchestrated for maximum physical, psychological, and spiritual pain, disasters happen and combined with wars---declared or undeclared---injuries are physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds.

4) The physical wounds may respond to treatment and heal, the emotional and spiritual injuries may never completely heal. Does anyone ever get over the loss of a loved one? Evidence points to 'it gets better' and 'some days are better than others', but the memory remains. Some self-medicate, some sink into depression, some seek revenge, some offer help to others who are injured in future events---well intentioned and inappropriate, some with some success.

5) Has it really been 20 years since the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building? Fourteen years since 9/11? Eight years since Blacksburg? Since the Newtown kindergarten murderer was inspired by the Norwegian murderer? And, now Charleston?

6) It's important to remember those who died. Ask their families and loved ones first what they would like to have or plan. Don't exclude those who have lost the most. Don't use numbers of fatalities. Use their names. Those who were murdered, even those who were children, had lives that mattered and those who loved them unconditionally. That loved them into being and nurtured them and now live with unimaginable loss. Exclude family members at your peril. Even in death, respect and dignity are paramount. The dead must be buried. Their lives cut short celebrated. Rituals that deeply resonate as authentic developed and embraced.

7) Be prepared for the "second wave" of response in these mass fatality disasters. Those that tell the story of what happened as well as those who manipulate the story to their own selfish and political ends. Healing and return to the new normal can be delayed and distracted by those, both genuine and opportunistic.

8) Utoya was about wiping out immigration and keeping Norway blond, about killing the children of minorities and refugees. Crimes of convenience that exploit hospitality and welcome, attacks on sacred sanctuaries where children can play, and adults can be inspired, and, futures, hopeful.

9) Differences that are feared, and, not differences that can be embraced as signs of wisdom and strength.

I think a lot today about Utoya, as the headlines report about Charleston. Very different disasters, very different criminal acts, so convenient in an open society. Where one has so much opportunity to harm, and far less urgency to do good. Where hospitality is practiced, and sanctuary a distant dream.

And, these words, "If you had known my child, you would not have killed him."