Looking into the eyes of a mass murderer

April 17, 2012

By Fabrizio Bensch

A lot has been written about Andres Behring Breivik, the 33 year-old Norwegian man who a year ago was unknown.

He lived completely withdrawn on a small farm far from Oslo, alone to work on his diabolical plan. He built bombs to explode in central Oslo, and in the following chaos drove to Utoeya island and shot as many teenagers as possible. In all, he killed 77 people that day.

Today, for the first time, I looked directly into the eyes of this man – the eyes of a mass murderer.

Back on the afternoon of July 22nd, I heard the first news about what was happening in downtown Oslo and on the island of Utoeya. Of course at that time, no one knew the full dimension of these two attacks. I took the very first flight from Berlin to Oslo, then drove straight through the night to Utoeya island. The first photographs I took were of survivors. As the number of victims on the island grew, clues emerged as to what terrible tragedy was hitting this country.

It was early the next morning when a colleague and I rented a boat to go to the island. Red Cross boats were everywhere, as were police searching for bodies in the Tyrifjorden lake. As we approached the island I looked through my telephoto lens at the white sheets on the shore. The closer we got, the more and more precise the details became. Shoes, jeans and feet. The bodies of the victims were still laying on the shore.

That photograph burned into my memory – the white sheets on the gray rock of Utoeya island and the eerie silence of Tyrifjorden lake, broken only by the monotonous sound of motor boats.

I came back to Oslo, to be in the the same room with defendant Breivik on the first day of his trial. It was a sunny but chilly morning and I was one of hundreds of journalists standing in a long line.

All my colleagues were in a very quiet mood, not only because they were tired but also curious about what would happen when Breivik entered the courtroom.

Passing the serious security check like at an airport, I entered the court and put myself in the next line to be one of 15 photographers allowed to enter the courtroom itself.

When I entered the room I looked for a good spot where I could see the arrival of Breivik and the place where he would sit. Around 8:30am the room was filled with relatives of the victims, survivors, the defense team of Breivik, prosecutors and journalists. The courtroom was fully occupied. It was not a big room, maybe 15 x 20 meters.

At exactly 8:53 am, Breivik entered the room, handcuffed and escorted by police officers. He wore a black suit. He stood in the front row in the center next to his lawyers. He raised his two hands up to be removed from the handcuffs by a police officer. It was quiet in the courtroom, all attention was on him.

He used this attention as soon as his right hand was free from the handcuffs. He put his clenched right hand to the left side of his chest and stretched out his arm with his fist to a salute. He wanted to provoke all.

He used the court like a stage for himself. He sat on his chair looking at the audience. It seemed as if he would smile from time to time. His eyes were bright and cold.

When the judges appeared everybody in the courtroom stood up to pay their respects. Just Breivik remained seated. He refused to accept the legitimacy of the court, and consequently didnn’t stand. The first session started.

It was a scary feeling that a man who killed 77 people was standing opposite me, less than four meters away, and I was looking through my lens at his eyes. He was looking nervously around, talking to his lawyer and trying to be cool, a controlled impression.

I tried as much as possible to take pictures of everything that happened in front of me, trying to get any angle. Using my wide-angle 14mm to 300mm on my camera bodies.

Breivik was asked by the judge whether he felt guilty or not, which he denied. At 9:16 am all photographers, except two pool photographers, had to leave the court for the day. It was a depressing feeling when I left the room. My photos were already wirelessly transmitted while photographing in the courtroom to our Berlin picture desk, where my colleagues cropped and captioned them and sent them out on our picture wire around the world.

Today I looked into the motionless, cold eyes of the mass murderer Andres Behring Breivik.

At the press working area we watched a live broadcast of the trial from the courtroom. As part of the prosecutor’s evidence an original telephone conversation between a young woman on Utoeya island and the police was played. The young woman, in mortal fear, described what was happening, crying and asking for help; her voice getting quieter and quieter. Then several shots were fired from the weapon of Breivik and the woman went silent.

In the hall there was dead silence, until the prosecutor continued with his remarks.

(View a slideshow of images from the trial here)

One comment

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Something terrible and wrong is going on with this world and people.The reason for this are humans, and of course the result of this we are as well.

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