This is a story about incredible courage, perseverance and heroism. It’s a story about a twenty two year old girl who gets shot at least four times and survives the ordeal, thanks to her friends.
On July 22, 2011, Ina Rangønes Libak was working in the kitchen of the cafeteria building at the Utøya Labor party youth retreat in Norway, when right wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik was set ashore on the island by an unwitting boat crew.
Minutes later, he started a mass murdering rampage, shooting and killing sixty nine people and wounding many more. Almost all of them young, some of them children as young as fourteen.
On Tuesday, May 15, 2012, Ina told her story in an Oslo courtroom, facing the killer for the first time since he shot her. She spoke clearly, with a strong voice. Occasionally she smiled and spoke of the future, she recounted her ordeal and showed her scars to the court. Everyone in the room seemed affected by her testimony.
Everyone except the defendant, who sat with an expressionless face throughout. He’s on trial for the worst terrorist attack and mass murder in Norwegian history. In addition to the shootings, he’s charged with detonating a large car bomb in downtown Oslo on the same day, killing eight.
The facts of the case are not in dispute, but the question of guilt is. Behring Breivik claims he acted in self defense, protecting his country against “multiculturalism” and against “unchecked immigration”. According to him, members of the currently ruling Labor party are traitors to their country for initiating and “enforcing” this policy. The youth retreat at Utøya is an indoctrination camp set up to corrupt the minds of the young, all of them fair game in his war.
He hoped to instigate a popular uprising against the government. When he was arrested, he identified himself as a “commander of the resistance,” and demanded that he be put in charge of the military. Instead, the Norwegian people marched for the victims by the hundreds of thousands, all holding roses, the symbol of the Labor party.
Ina Rangønes Libak knew nothing of this when she first heard loud bangs that Friday, but she soon suspected something was terribly wrong. She left the kitchen and joined others in the mess hall, where they tried to hide. They thought the bangs were coming from outside. Someone speculated that perhaps it was just firecrackers, this made everyone calm down a little. Suddenly they heard many more bangs, closer now. Everyone kept silent. They just looked at each other, hoping that they’d be safe behind closed doors if they stayed away from the windows. Ina and several others hauled a piano away from the wall and hid behind it. She was just thinking that this reminded her of one of those school massacres when the first bullets hit her. She was crouching, probably covering her head with her arms, which is why they got hit first. She didn’t look up and didn’t know it, but the killer had murdered eleven people in the building already and was standing directly above her, firing at point blank range. She remembers every bullet as it hit her and recounted to the court how she was thinking that it wasn’t so bad, she could survive getting shot in the arms. The next bullet hit her jaw and she worried that this was more serious. She felt a strange taste in her mouth, probably from the bullet, and started bleeding profusely. The final shot hit her in the chest. This really scared her, because she knew people usually die from such wounds. She doesn’t remember the girl sitting next to her dying, nor that six other people were killed in the room. She thinks she probably held her hands in front of her face as it was happening.
Not realizing that the killer was in the room with her, she got up and ran, trying to hold her jaw in place. Blood was pouring from her wounds. She managed to get outside and tried shouting for help when she saw people running in panic. She knew then that she wasn’t the only one who was shot. She couldn’t feel her arms anymore and couldn’t stop the bleeding. Standing in the grass she felt her legs give and thought, “So now I die”. Just then two of her friends came running and picked her up. With shots still ringing out around them they carried Ina down a steep incline towards a small building, the pump house, where other people were hiding.
A woman lay down on the ground underneath Ina, so she could keep warm. Three others lay next to her and took responsibility for one wound each. They made compresses from their own clothing and one person got up and found some small rocks nearby. They used them with the compresses to stem her bleeding. As she lay there, Ina asked if anyone could survive such wounds. One of her friends calmly replied that people have survived gunshot wounds before. Ina looked up at the bushes and trees surrounding her. She told the court how she was thinking, “so strange, that something so beautiful still exists” as she noticed a drop of water falling from a leaf.
More shots and screams rang out nearby, ever closer, but no one panicked and ran. Her friends stayed with Ina. One of them said, “they’re dying, they’re dying, we have to help them.” Another friend replied, “we’re going to lie absolutely quiet and still.” And that’s what they did, even as the killer walked directly towards them and they realized how exposed they were. He passed by only 6 feet away. Had he looked in their direction, there’s no way he would have avoided seeing them. But he didn’t. After a while one of the friends received a phone call that the killer had been apprehended and that it was safe to come out.
The hilly terrain was strewn with dead bodies which made it impossible for her friends to carry Ina all the way down to the water and a waiting boat. She had to walk part of the way herself. As she was being ferried to the mainland in the bottom of the boat she drifted in and out of consciousness. A woman in the boat talked to her, asked her where she’s from, tried to keep her awake. Ina told her, “You shouldn’t look at me, you’ll become traumatized.” The woman replied, “No, Ina. You look very, very beautiful.”
She spent over a month in hospital, where she underwent surgery five times. She told the court how the survivors have taken care of each other and how much it hurts to have lost so many wonderful people. She told how she’s been able to continue her studies and keep up with her student peers.
The prosecutor was visibly impressed by Ina’s spirit and remarked that she seems to have a more positive outlook than than the average person. Ina laughed. “Thank you,” she said. “But I’m not going to deny that the time after July 22 has been painful. Insecurity and uncertainty have become permanent parts of my life.”
Her scars are the visible reminders of what she went through. To Ina, those scars do not represent the terror she faced that day, instead they represent her core values of solidarity and unity. So she’s named them the “Solidarity scar” and the “Unity scar”.
“Those are the nicest words I know,” she said. “I was shot, but my values survived.”