Norway terror attacks reflections

Vegard visited Utoya the day before the terror attack © Vegard Grott/Scanpix

Bad things happen. They happen all the time. But when it happens in your own backyard, it is quite something different. You will never forget it.

It has been a month. One month since Norway experienced its first terror attack. One month since I experienced my first terror attack. I hope it will never happen again.

Ahead of my final year with JMU Journalism, I have been working for Scanpix, Scandinavia’s leading photography agency, this summer. It has been a great experience to work with the best photographers and staff from Norway, and I have loved every minute of it.

That is, every minute except the attacks which shocked Norway.

On Thursday 21st July, I was sent to Utoya. The youth-wing of Norway’s leading Labour Party (AUF) held their annual camp at the tiny island, roughly a 50-minute drive from the capital, Oslo.

It was a lovely day at Utoya. I was sent to cover the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Store’s visit at the camp. The sun was shining, I met happy people and I did not mind being at work on the island for five hours. It was a good day at the office.

Despite the lovely weather on the Thursday, the forecast for theweekend was terrible. Due to this, and the fact that most staffphotographers were on holiday, the office decided not to cover the former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland’s visit to the island the day after.

Vegard Grott

Scanpix had a priority to cover a football match between Start and Molde, the team led by Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in Kristiansand. We were going back to Utoya on Saturday anyway – or at least we thought.

The match never started on Friday 22nd July. And we were not going back to Utoya the following Saturday. The horrendous massacres which killed 77 beautiful people there and in Oslo were a tragic reality.

I was lucky.

I was not at Utoya. And I was not in Oslo, which I had been every day for the last two weeks. I was in Kristiansand to take pictures at the football match.

What if? What if the regular snapper in Kristiansand was not ill and I did not have to cover the game? What if I was sent to Utoya two days in a row? What if I was in Oslo working when the explosion happened?

These are the questions that arise immediately. But after a while you do not think about it anymore.

I would most likely not have been hit by the explosion if I was at work in Oslo that day. Although the Scanpix office in Oslo is just across the street from where the bomb went off outside the government buildings, the explosion did not kill or hurt any of my colleagues.

And I would most likely not have been on the island when the massacre happened as my job would have been to follow Brundtland’s visit at Utoya. She left before he came. But then again, the killer’s plan was to arrive earlier. So it is always the thought of: “What if?”

Oslo bombing © Vegard Grott/Scanpix

But I do not think that way now. What happened to me happened for a reason.

I drove back to Oslo on the Friday and covered the aftermaths the following days. I will never forget walking around Oslo surrounded by armed police, sad people and the world media. The lively capital was transformed into a ghost city on the Saturday.

However, I have never experienced Norway as united as it has been after the terror attacks. The sight of 150,000 people gathering in Oslo for a ‘rose march’, as people also did across the rest of the country, was really special and will always be on my mind.

The Oslo and Utoya terror attacks gave me, from a journalistic point of view, experience I never thought I would get. Everything from standing outside the house of the killer’s mum a late Friday night, being the only photographer allowed inside the Grand Hall of Oslo to take pictures of the Prime minister, the King and the Queen, watching the bombed-out government buildings, to covering press conferences and so on have, without a doubt, given me a lot of experience.

My pictures have appeared all over the world, from online at the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, Bild and Le Parisien, to newspapers and magazines. Normally, I would be over the moon to see my name and work published in so many different countries. But I am not excited about it, to be honest.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this massive tragedy.

“If one man can show so much hate, just think how much love we all together can create.”