Though the world today is so often consumed by terrible stories that give us reason to fear threats of violence, deception, and loss, countless people work tirelessly to protect the innocence and magic of childhood. But what happens when children can't be protected from each other? On a frozen afternoon in 1994, the residents of one city were about to find out.
Trondheim, Norway is a moderately large city — the country's third largest — in addition to being home for a significant population of students. With charming architecture and fascinating history dating back to Viking times, the city has been witness to generations of change and development. Winters in Trondheim come in strong and early; by October, no one is surprised when the first snow falls so soon. It was one such occasion in the fall when school was closed due to weather and young children went out as they did to enjoy a snow day.
Beathe Redergard was at home when an eight-year-old boy came forward to say that he had discovered something grizzly — the body of Redergard's five-year-old daughter, Silje, naked and lying in a snow-covered football field. The boy had recognized his schoolmate and run by to report what he had found, shocking the family.
Deciding to listen to the boy, Silje's parents raced to the football field only minutes from where they lived to discover an active crime scene investigation. Authorities had cordoned off the area. Once the family was on the scene, they were briefed and taken to the station where they answered questions and made statements for hours, until very late at night.
Because the little girl had been found without her clothes on, police initially suspected that her killing was motivated by sexual abuse. Authorities were able to rule out immediate family members as the thought of a monster on the loose gripped their sense of urgency. The alleged suspect was assumed by all to be a man, but what investigators discovered would shock the world...
No one could have expected to discover that the truth would be far stranger, and offer so little in the way of answers.
Beathe knew of a woman who had found her daughter's body before authorities had arrived and attempted to resuscitate her, to no avail. Wishing to thank her for her efforts, Beathe asked to pay her a visit and was invited to the woman's home. But once inside, Beathe's presence seemed to agitate her.
The woman's own child, a little boy, had come into the room where the two adults were speaking and sat on Beathe's knee. It was then where an undeniable tension filled the room, smothering the conversation. The woman took a deep breath, looking into the eyes of the grieving mother, and spoke: it was her young son, and another friend, who killed Silje. The boy sitting on Beathe's knee, no older than six years old, had helped kill her daughter.
When Beathe asked why he had done it, the boy said he had jumped on Silje because he thought she was sleeping. Then he and the other boy stripped her of her clothes to wake her, leaving her in the snow to die of hypothermia. She left immediately, nearly boiling over in absolute rage, enough to throttle the boy. Would justice ever be enough?
All these years later, no one can figure out why the boys, who all knew Silje, would ever possess the ability to resort to such cruelty. The boys had thrown rocks at the girl, hit her, kicked her and left her for dead; what could they have possibly been thinking? There were no answers to be found in the community, which was at a loss as to explain what had occurred. How could it ever be forgotten?
What happened on that day will never be forgotten by Beathe. The names of the child killers were kept from the public, ultimately quelling the anger felt by those who knew the story, but like Silje's family could hardly put together. It had only taken a few terrifying minutes to end Silje's life, but it would take a lifetime of grief wondering how much she had endured.
Speculation that the boys had been influenced by the Power Rangers forced the show off the air in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, but it wasn't enough to mend a mother's broken heart...
Only Silje's parents and the police know the identities of their daughter's killers, and since the incident, the families have all attempted to move on. "They were just little kids," said Beathe. Knowing that she could never let go of her daughter's memory meant that she had to let go of her hatred for the children who took her away.
The city of Trondheim has moved on as well, and new children play on the same field where an atrocity happened years ago. Parents everywhere today remain vigilant and aware of their children's activities, sad that it has to be this way.
In the absence of logic and sensibility, Silje's memory lives on.