SUNDVOLLEN, Norway (Reuters) - “I heard screams. I heard people begging for their lives and I heard shots. He just blew them away. I was certain I was going to die.”
Erik Kursetgjerde, an 18-year-old Labour Party youth member, described the fear and panic on Utoeya island when a gunman staged a methodical massacre on Friday — half an hour after organisers had told people at the youth camp about a bomb attack in Oslo.
“People ran everywhere. They panicked and climbed into trees. People got trampled,” Kursetgjerde told Reuters outside a hotel in the town of Sundvollen, near the forested island.
The killer, dressed as a policeman, “would tell people to come over: ‘It’s OK, you’re safe, we’re coming to help you.’ And then I saw about 20 people come towards him and he shot them at close range,” he said.
Kursetgjerde said he ran and hid between cliffs, then swam out into the lake and nearly drowned. “Someone (in a boat) rescued me. They saved my life.”
“This lasted for hours,” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference, describing the killings on the island northwest of Oslo where about 600 young people had gathered.
A 32-year-old Norwegian was arrested after 85 people died in the island shootings, on top of the seven killed in the earlier bomb blast.
“I saw he had a handgun,” Thorbjoern Vereive, 22, told Reuters. “Some people said he also had something that looked like a rifle.”
“When I swam out into the water he shot all my friends. He shot them when they were running away. I hid in a cave and had to lie in the water. There were people hiding in the cave and he tried to lure people out by saying, ‘It’s safe, come out.’”
“He picked them out, one by one. He was mostly silent. It looked like it didn’t bother him.”
“He tried to shoot me and I saw the bullet pass right next to me. I thought I was going to die.”
Another youth, Dana Barzingi, described the massacre to state broadcaster NRK. “It was a bloodbath. There was nowhere to flee, only the water, and when people tried to swim away he just shot them.”
“He kept coming,” said Barzingi. “He went around and around pretending to be a rescue worker and said people should come to get help. Then he shot them.”
Edvard Foernes, 16, was taking part in the annual youth event for the first time, told Reuters the gunman shouted “Come out and play with me! Don’t be shy.”
“I was in my tent when the firing started. I thought it was fireworks. Somebody was screaming, ‘Get the hell away!’ and I thought they were joking. But then I saw people dying,” he said.
“There were two people in a ditch. They said, ‘Please don’t shoot me,’ and then he shot them like dogs.”
He fled to the lake and plunged in. “The attacker was 10 to 15 metres away from me and was aiming at me in the water.”
He said he had lost friends but didn’t know how many.
One survivor estimated that the shooting went on for about an hour after starting at about 5:30 p.m. A police spokesman told reporters the shooting took place over a period of almost 90 minutes.
NRK showed blurred pictures taken from a helicopter of a man, apparently in police uniform, standing with his arm outstretched amid numerous victims, some prone on the rocky shore, others floating in the water.
Additional reporting by Walter Gibbs, editing by Tim Pearce