UTOYA, Norway – Norway opened the island of Utoya to journalists Monday for the first time since confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik massacred 69 people at a youth camp in July, with the ruling Labor Party vowing to ensure its idyllic retreat transcends tragedy.
Police closed the island after the July 22 shooting spree that was preceded by Breivik’s car bomb attack outside the prime minister’s office in central Oslo, which killed eight people.
More than 150 journalists and photographers took the five-minute trip to the island on the M/S Thorbjoern – the same ferry that carried Breivik on the rainy afternoon of his gun rampage.
They were permitted to walk around freely but were not allowed to take survivors to the island, a popular recreational center owned by the ruling Labor Party, which traditionally uses it for its youth wing’s summer retreats.
Donors have pledged more than $5.5 million to renovate the island, dotted with campgrounds, football fields and basketball courts, said Eskil Pedersen, leader of the Labor Party’s youth organization.
He said that youth camps would resume on the island, but a decision had not yet been made on when that would be. The party also plans a commemorative monument on the island.
“The island means very much to very many people. No island in Norway has formed the political landscape more than Utoya,” Pedersen told reporters. “We have the clear aim to return to Utoya.”
Organizers said that they would gradually open the island to the public but will request that visitors respect it as the site of the killings.
There were few outward signs of the horrific attack on the small, peaceful forested island, apart from a few shattered windows and bullet holes in the cafe near the main building. Police had cleared away evidence for their investigation.
Adrian Pracon, a 21-year-old survivor says reopening the island, 25 miles northwest of the capital, Oslo, is important so that “people understand what happened there.”
Pracon recalled the horror of the day, as Breivik stalked the shore and shot campers who, like him, had plunged into the water in a desperate attempt to escape.
Breivik has confessed to the attacks but denies criminal guilt, saying he’s in a state of war and believes the massacre was necessary to save Norway and Europe from being overrun by Muslim immigrants.
He has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest after he surrendered to the police on the island.