As Anders Breivik conducted his act of terror on the usually-picturesque Norwegian island of Utøya, methodically slaughtering 69 people and injuring dozens more at the hands of his shotgun, 20-year-old Bjørn Ihler lay low on the far southern tip of the island and somehow struck up a conversation about Christmas.
On the morning of July 22, 2011, Ihler had slept in. He only arrived to the island the night before and stayed up all night catching up with old friends.
The island played host to Norwegian Labour Party-affiliated Worker's Youth League summer camp and Ihler had travelled over from England, where he was studying theatre at Liverpool University, to "learn something about how politics was going in Norway," he told Business Insider.
That grey and rainy afternoon, he crawled out of his tent, ate some waffles for late breakfast, and trundled over to a meeting about education policy in the island's main venue.
Right after the meeting, the entire island was instructed to gather in the main venue, where they were informed there had been an explosion in Oslo, the Norwegian capital.
Only later would they discover that the van blast had been carried out by far-right terrorist Breivik, who, dressed in a homemade police uniform and carrying fake ID, would later calmly board a ferry to Utøya to carry out the shooting spree that saw so many of those attending the meeting that day lose their lives.
Ihler and his friends quickly brought up images of what was taking place in Oslo on their smartphones.
"It looked like downtown Manhattan during 9/11," Ihler said. "It was surreal to see my home town and the area I had grown up and spent my teenage years in that state."
In a bleak twist of irony, the islanders were instructed to stay on Utøya, rather than attempt to travel to Oslo that day, as that was considered the safest thing to do.
As they awaited further news about the explosion, the islanders began passing around mobile phones so the group could check if their loved ones had been caught up in the blast.
Ihler, who throughout our conversation has an almost superhuman ability to look on the positive side, said: "Luckily, all the family members of the people on the island were safe. It was the middle of the summer and nobody was working anyway. It was quite late Friday afternoon and the summer vacation so timing-wise were were very lucky: instead of eight people dying it would have been thousands."
The center of Utøya resembles the crater of a volcano. The camping area sits at the lowest point, surrounded by hills. After the meeting, Ihler headed there with his friends.
It was then that they heard "loud popping sounds."
"It sounded like somebody playing with fire crackers or something like that," Ihler said. "We were a little anxious but we just thought that someone was trying to mess with us."
A man dressed in dark clothes appeared at the top of the hill. Relieved, some of the people in the camping area ran towards him. Breivik picked them off with his shotgun.
Ihler performed a 180-degree turn and ran towards the woods with a friend, eventually emerging on the track that surrounds the perimeter of the island.
They snuck across the island and stumbled into an 8-year-old boy. Many people ran past him, but Ihler and his friend picked him up and took him to their next place of shelter, low on the ground.
The boy wanted to run off to look for his father, who was a security guard on the island, but Ihler stayed on top of him to protect him and prevent the boy from walking into clear danger. The boy would find out later his father was one of the first to be shot in Breivik's attack.
After an hour, the sound of gun shots drew closer. The trio took to the woods again and stumbled across another young boy, a 9-year-old who also the son of a security guard. The trio became a four and they emerged from woods back to the island's track.
Ihler was stunned by what he saw. A pile of corpses lay on the ground, among them were faces of some of the friends he had been chatting with hours before.
A sound blared from the heap of dead bodies. It was the ring tone of a mobile phone.
"That's when I knew how serious it was," Ihler said. "That hit me hard. That was a a loved one who wouldn't be able to speak to someone again."
Ihler wasn't given any more time to stop and ponder. The gun shots were getting closer. They had to run again.
The two men and two boys ended up on the southern tip of the island, climbing over the rocks that sloped out in the freezing sea water. From there Ihler describes seeing boats, helicopters, and looking out to the mainland to see the longest line of emergency vehicles he had ever seen.
"At this point, we thought we might have been saved," Ihler said.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider