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Wounded survivor revisits massacre island as Norway trial looms
UTOEYA, Norway |
UTOEYA, Norway (Reuters) - She last saw Anders Behring Breivik when he raised his rifle at her on the shore of a small Norwegian island and calmly pulled the trigger. Now, 18-year-old Alexandra Peltre will face him in court as he stands trial for killing 77 people that summer's day.
"I saw him right in the eyes, and poof! I had a hole in my leg," she said during a return to the wooded island where Breivik, an anti-Islam fanatic, killed 69 of his victims as they attended a Labour Party youth summer camp.
"I don't take anything for granted anymore," Peltre said, reflecting on the eight months since the massacre shook Norway.
Peltre was among the last people shot on Utoeya island, and one of 33 who survived severe injuries. Earlier that day Breivik had set off a fertiliser bomb at government headquarters in Oslo, killing eight and hurting more than 200.
His targets, he later said, were "traitors" whose politics let too many Muslims into Norway. Peltre hopes confronting him at his trial, due to start in just over a week, will help her put the woeful day behind her.
"After the court case, I think it will be easier to learn to live with what happened," she told Reuters, reclining on the rocky spit where Breivik, now 33, cornered her.
Like Norway, she has become tougher and warier. She is still fashion crazy, she says, but "gallows humour" shades her buoyant sense of fun, and she recently got tattooed.
"I have these days when I am very sad," she said.
She appears calm or even detached at times, but often wisecracking to cut the solemnity.
While she had dreamed of being a model she now fears the scar from her injury - a hole the size of a man's fist that took three operations to close - could make that harder. So she wants to study acting, and has learned some Shakespeare.
"I don't think so much about the future because I don't know what the next thing will be," she says.
These days she puts more energy into her "passion for fashion" and a certain guy at school than into progressive politics. But she is certain that multiculturalism, Breivik's bugbear, is here to stay.
"I don't feel like a traitor," Peltre said. "I feel like a person who wants to make a change... so everybody can live on earth and experience nice things and not just war and hate."
She was born in Africa to an Angolan mother and a French father. At three, she came to Norway with her mother and a Norwegian army officer she calls Pappa, and feels Norwegian to the core.
On top of Norwegian and English, she speaks her mother's native Portuguese. She feels a little sorry for Breivik, who "doesn't know what's going on or what he's missing."
"Nobody told him the part where Norway has changed, and that people have changed for the better," she said. "You can't go around with a label that says 'I own Norway'."
When she finishes secondary school, a goal she had to postpone after nine weeks in hospital, she intends to go to Africa and "help children get the chances that I have had".
SCREAMS, THEN SHOOTING
By the time Breivik aimed his Ruger semi-automatic rifle at Peltre, he had prowled Utoeya island in a police uniform for about an hour, repeatedly luring youngsters by saying he had come to save them.
"There was kind of a pattern," she recalled. "First you heard the screams, then you heard the shooting. I seemed like it went on forever."
She ran from hiding place to hiding place with a small group, shushing those who cried aloud and side-stepping still victims. When her turn with Breivik finally came she believed most of the 564 people on the island were dead.
The expanding "dum-dum" bullet struck her outside right thigh with explosive force and she jumped into the cold Tyrifjord lake, almost a kilometre from the far shore. Her face and bountiful hair protruded, but no more bullets came her way.
She watched terrified as Breivik killed a boy on shore with five or six shots at close range.
Eventually she crept back onto the rocks to seek warmth under a jacket with an injured boy. Nearby lay her friend Andrine Bakkene Espeland, dead at 16 with head and chest wounds.
Breivik surrendered to police less than 100 metres away, seemingly proud of the carnage. An officer applied a tourniquet to Peltre's thigh, possibly saving her life.
Court-appointed psychiatrists declared Breivik psychotic, and a second opinion is expected next week. To Peltre he seemed fully in control of himself, but she said: "If they think he's insane, that's OK with me."
"Everything happened for a reason," she added. "We don't know the reason today, and we won't know tomorrow. Some day we will know why."
Breivik has admitted the attacks but refused to plead, deeming his actions necessary to "protect" Norway from Muslim immigration and multiculturalism.
During her visit Peltre criss-crossed the island without a limp. She is, she says, a fan of Wonder Woman, the DC Comics heroine, and wants to make the most of the life she almost lost.
She is also a social media wiz who adorns her blog posts with hearts and smiley faces. Her Twitter followers even include the Norwegian defence minister, Espen Barth Eide.
Every day he gets to savour updates like: "Fun with new nails and a movie" and "Live your life, take chances, be crazy! Don't wait... "
(Editing by Gwladys Fouche and Alistair Scrutton)
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