Reflections on a killing

Kathleen Harman's street was the scene last week of an attack that shocked Sweden, in which a 16-year-old boy was beaten to death by a group of his contemporaries. Here, Kathleen reflects on a week of grief and hard questions.

I live in the centre of Stockholm, in a nice street, in an apartment block opposite a little school, just a stone’s throw away from City Hall. Many of you who follow the news will now have seen footage of what my apartment block actually looks like, because a boy was effectively kicked to death less than ten metres from my bedroom window.

I didn’t hear or see the actual attack, which apparently took all of thirty seconds, but was witness to the events that unfolded. I had assumed, as one would, that there had been an accident of some kind, but it soon became apparent from the concentrated police activity that something far more horrific had taken place.

So now our street, or more precisely, the entrance to our apartment block, has become a shrine with candles, flowers and messages. Teenagers from all over Stockholm are coming to pay their respects and hold sorrowful, reflective vigils. This poor boy died the day before his seventeenth birthday after having attended the birthday party of a girl who was turning fifteen. These are ages when people should not be having to deal with the concept of violence and mortality, and some of his friends have been left completely distraught.

I find the juxtaposition of the sorrow outside and the maintaining of a normal, domestic life in our apartment block other-worldly. I didn’t know the boy but as a parent I cannot even begin to go down the route of imagining what it must be like for his family. I also find myself feeling for the boys caught up in this, in police cells tonight as I am sitting in my kitchen writing this article. I don’t know the details of the case (and until all the events of that night are properly accounted for in court, I won’t), but find it incredible, or rather incredulous, that all three set out with this tragic conclusion in mind.

Here in my kitchen I am telling my small son that unless he eats up his peas he won’t grow up to be big and strong but am painfully aware that there are other impediments to a long and happy life than a deficiency of green vegetables.

There has been mention in the press about the lack of parental supervision at the party itself. Again, I don’t know the validity of these claims but what I do know, because I saw it with my own eyes, was that in the small hours following the attack there was a fairly large group of teenagers waiting at the scene for some considerable time without any noticeable parental presence coming to join them.

But it is this absence of over-parenting that in many ways makes this country so fantastic for children and such a great place for teenagers to grow up in. I imagine that there were countless other teenage birthday parties being held last Friday night, perhaps without adult supervision, perhaps with alcohol, perhaps with everyone staying out all night, where a bout of Chlamydia and perhaps a hangover would be the worst that could happen. Everyone would have had the night of their lives. It just happened to be the last night of one particular boy’s life and it is an unmitigated tragedy for his family, friends and community.

Kathleen Harman