After an afternoon walking around Gamla Stan (old town) and having a good time taking pictures of the city in non-tourist season, I decided it was time to head back to my hotel for the day and grab some supper at the grocery store. I made my way back to the main part of the city, making my way towards T-Centralen (central station) when I saw a bustling shopping street, full of swedes making their way home from work in rush hour, enjoying the weather on a sunny Friday afternoon. I thought I might as well see why this street had so much foot traffic, it’s not like my afternoon was scheduled up. I crossed the street to the pedestrian walkway and started making my way past many shops which I hadn’t seen before.
“What a nice time,” I thought to myself, here I am being truly Swedish, headphones plugged in, walking down this crowded pedestrian street, integrating myself into their rush hour.
Suddenly I hear screams from ahead, loud bangs as well but I can’t make out what’s happening. As whatever it is draws nearer, people begin to scatter in every direction. As I stand still, absolutely stunned on the right side of the street, I see it. A truck (something like a u-haul) is hurtling down this absolutely filled pedestrian only street. My mind flashes back to the attack in Nice, France. The front of it is burned, but not on fire. “Could this truck have been used as a car bomb?” I quickly think. No windows, no driver.
“Good” I think to myself, no shooter to worry about. That’s one less problem to have. I stand on the right side of the street, the truck smashing its way through on the left, maybe 30m out. I turn and start running, desperately looking for a shop door to duck into. There’s nothing. Only solid display glass. I can’t escape on this side of the road. I remembered how fast I saw the truck moving and can hear it approaching quickly. As I continue to run down the right side of the street I peek over my shoulder to see where it is.
IT’S ON MY SIDE OF THE STREET NOW! HOW ON EARTH DID IT SWITCH SIDES?!! HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?! It’s only about 10 meters away now, charging as fast as ever. If I don’t move out of the way I’ll never move again.
I peek to my right and see that at this point in the road, a side street meets the main street, forming a T. I dash to the other side of the street and turn around to see if I made it.
The truck goes whizzing past me, I believe it must have missed me by merely several meters. I watch it as it crashes into the store where I had moments earlier been trying to take cover. It completely smashes the display windows and destroys everything in its path. As it does so, because of all the panic and confusion, the sound of it crashing into the storefront and everything else around it makes it sounds like gunfire has sprung out as it continues smashing its way down the street.
“Great, what now?”
I turn and start jogging down the side street, I realize the panic of everyone around me has died down. Good, no shooter yet.
A mother and her teenage son are walking down the side street with me now, I see the look of panic on their faces. I start to think of my own family, “thank God they’re not here,” I think. I wouldn’t have been able to help them. I wouldn’t have been able to pull anyone else from the path of the truck. “I couldn’t have helped anyone but myself.”
I see people oblivious to what just happened walking down the side street, heading for where disaster had just struck. I’m too shocked to say anything to them, and also wonder “why would they be heading straight into the danger I just ran from?”
In retrospect, they were heading there because they had no clue! People all around me stood oblivious as to what had just happened. Smiling, eating ice cream, enjoying their day.
I look over to the mother and her son and ask if they’re OK. I wanted to be able to help them if they sustained any injuries. I’m a lifeguard, that’s my job. They say they’re fine and we reach the end of the side street and head our separate ways.
“I need to get out of here, I need to get back to the hotel.”
I start to loop around back to T-Centralen. Everywhere on the street are people oblivious to what is happening around them, but as people like myself stream into this street, I can see the panic on their faces. I know exactly who just experienced what I did. People are on their phones, crying.
I make it to T-Centralen. A crowd has gathered over at the superstore Ahlens, police have the road blocked off and everyone is standing around watching.
“It’s over. I’m safe. I made it”
I try and see if that is where the truck ended up but I can’t see anything, it is too far away. I head into T-Centralen and start to make my way down the first of two escalators. I am halfway down and people start to stream up, running.
“What is going on now? Did they just hear about what happened?”
People keep streaming up, this time running for their lives. I’m too far on the down escalator to try and run back up it. “Comical” I think. “Of course I have to run up a down escalator when there is danger”
I book it to the bottom and swing around, bolting up the escalator back to the outside with everyone else. We all stop and pant once we have ran through the doors. I grab the attention of someone who ran up beside me and ask them what was happening down there.
“We heard gunshots” she replies.
“Great. The second wave.”
I pull out my phone and look for the next closest train station. I have to get out of here.
I start walking down the road, back to Bromma (which is a 15 min subway ride west of Stockholm).
I hear sirens wailing everywhere, police cars en mass making their way to the scene. A helicopter flies overhead providing surveillance. I hear a squealing of tires and turn around to see a black van ripping through the streets. Its full of black suited and masked men, fully armed. I notice police badges on their shoulders and am able to breath again.
“I’ll be safe for the several seconds the police pass by.”
All the subway trains are completely stopped. Looks like I’m walking home.
I walk the 8 km home. Drop into the grocery store next to the hotel and buy myself some chocolate croissants to celebrate life. My legs and feet are sore, but that’s a small price to pay for being alive.
Craig Christoffersen is currently in Sweden on a mission trip, working with a church in Stockholm.