New Zealand-born Sharidyn Svebakk-Bohn was the youngest person killed in the 2011 terror attack on Utoya island in Norway. As her killer came up for parole this week, her mother details how their family tackles the never-ending reminders of their loss.
The families were warned at the time.
Under Norwegian law, even the worst of the worst criminals could apply for parole after 10 years.
That day arrived this week. Anders Breivik, 42, appeared before a parole judge in a high-security prison south of Oslo to argue for his release. The far-right terrorist is serving the maximum 21-year sentence for killing 77 people in 2011, including New Zealand-Norwegian 14-year-old Sharidyn Svebakk-Bohn.
Despite the warning by their lawyers and advocates in 2012, families were still shocked to see him back in court and professing to be a changed man.
“I don’t think any of us were ever really prepared that this day was going to come,” said Vanessa Svebakk, Sharidyn’s mother.
She initially refused to watch most of the parole hearing, describing it as publicity “he does not deserve”. But the details still filtered through to the family. They caught snippets from conversations with other victims’ parents. And the eldest of two daughters, Savannah, overheard students at her school whispering about the terrorist’s white supremacist gestures.
“He has shown no remorse,” Svebakk told the Herald on the phone from Drammen, southwest of Oslo. “No sign of regret. No apology, in 10 years, for his heinous crime.
“There is no humility in his words. Instead of silence, arrogance. And trying to justify his actions, instead of keeping quiet. Probably the worst of what he says is that he will not take responsibility. Even if he had done all of that, there is no place for him except for jail.”
The three-day hearing wrapped up on Thursday in Norway and a ruling is expected this month.
Criminal justice experts believe Breivik will probably never be released under a provision similar to New Zealand’s preventive detention, which allows indefinite incarceration for those who present a danger to society.
Norwegian authorities have emphasised the terrorist has the same rights as any other prisoner, and to treat him differently would undermine the country’s core principles of rule of law and freedom of speech.
But the terrorist’s eager use of the court’s appeals and parole functions means he is a constant presence in his victims’ lives.
“The worst part of today wasn’t actually seeing him in a parole hearing,” Svebakk said. “The worst part is that he can do this every year, as long as he is in jail.
“When you’re in jail you’re serving a sentence because of the crime you’ve committed. I would try to find a more eloquent way of saying this, but he should shut the f*** up.”
She pauses. “It’s been a pretty emotional day.” It is 3am on the first night after the hearing started, but Svebakk says she is awake and ready to talk.
Her family has lived in Norway and New Zealand, and plans to shift back to New Zealand have so far been foiled by the Covid-19 pandemic.
After the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019, they found themselves wishing Norway had taken a similar approach to New Zealand in dealing with terror attacks.
“I wish we had a Prime Minister that had said early on ‘We’re not going to give him his name’,” Svebakk said, referring to Jacinda Ardern.
“I wish we had a media that understood the devastating effects and decided they weren’t going to be a microphone for a terrorist.
“But we’ve done things differently in Norway and the consequences of that is that there are families that are reliving the 22nd of July, 10 and half years ago, over and over again every time he is in the media.”
After 10 years of wrangling with the loss of her daughter, Svebakk accepts it may never leave her.
“There is a misconception that grief passes over time,” she said. “It doesn’t.”
But she is wary of it taking over their lives and is determined to give their two daughters, Savannah, 17, and Sydney, 12, as normal upbringings as possible.
At the same time, they have not shielded their daughters from the events of July 22, 2011, preferring to answer questions themselves rather than have them scour for information online.
As the two girls have grown up, they have confronted the loss of their sister head-on.
Sydney, who was a 17-month old when her sister died, sang a well-known Norwegian children’s song last year to create awareness about the Utoya massacre’s 10th anniversary, which was posted online and received thousands of hits. It eventually earned her and her family a private meeting with Norway’s Prime Minister at the time, Erna Solberg, who sang the song with her. It was a rare moment in which their grief melted away and the victims’ stories moved into the foreground.
Savannah has become an advocate for children who have lost siblings in terror attacks, making speeches at schools and colleges about the consequences of radicalisation and how to recognise it.
When the 10th anniversary of the Utoya attack came, Savannah spoke at a memorial in Drammen. Her speech was in Norwegian, English and te reo Māori.
“For 10 years we have struggled to find our place in the world without Sharidyn,” she said.
“My parents are two amazing people who have fiercely protected us and given Sydney and I everything that they also gave Sharidyn.
“But when you’re the little sister of the youngest victim of the Norway terrorist attacks – you grow up seeing the world in a way that steals from us our innocence.”
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