This is the story of a girl born in China on 18 June 2002, and adopted to Norway 9 months later. This is the story of a 17-year-old on the cusp of grown-up life, a happy kid who looked forward to becoming a journalist and moving in with her boyfriend. This is the story of a girl who was murdered for who she was. This is Johanne’s story.

On 10 August 2019, in Bærum, an affluent suburb of Oslo, she was murdered in her family home, in her own bed. Three gunshots to the head and one in the chest. The executioner was Philip Manshaus, her 21-year-old brother. Just 8 days earlier, inspired by the terrorist in Christchurch, New Zealand, he had decided his mission was to kill as many non-whites as he could. He murdered Johanne simply because she was of Asian origin. He murdered his own sister.

Shortly after the trial (but before sentencing), Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen published an interview with Johanne’s childhood friend and my daughter, Catarina – and Johanne’s mother and my childhood friend, Ellen.

The original article was written in Norwegian. Friends from around the world have been asking for a translation. With permission from Klassekampen, I have done the job. Here it is.

(*For anyone who isn’t entirely familiar with Norwegian criminal law, school traditions, etc, I have added explanatory notes in parentheses, like this.)

Original Norwegian text by Emma Tollersrud, photos by Tom Henning Bratlie where noted.

My Friend Johanne

ETERNALISED: The final year of high school has been tough for Catarina Redisch (18). In August last year, one of her best friends, Johanne ZhangJia Ihle-Hansen, was murdered because of her ethnicity. When times are hard, she pulls out the photo album. Photo by Tom Henning Bratlie, Klassekampen.

LOSS: Catarina and Johanne shared a childhood, and they were going to share a future. A racially motivated murder tore everything apart.

In the loft of a cabin in Norway’s Numedal Valley, two teenage girls were in bed chatting. It was nearing 4am; they ought to be asleep, getting ready for a hike the following morning. ‘Go to sleep,’ they heard a mum say from down below.

But they had so much to talk about. They had been so close when growing up, almost like sisters, playing and arguing on a weekly basis. These days, they didn’t see each other as frequently. They started high school in different cities and slipped apart a little, and then Catarina had gone to Australia to be an exchange student for a year.

But there in the cabin, on the quiet night of 8 August 2019, all was like it used to be. Just like before, they spoke confidentially and effortlessly about life, school, friends, feelings and plans. Catarina looked forward to being a russ (high school senior), then go on to university to study criminology. Johanne had two years left of high school, where she majored in media and communications, and thought she might like to be a journalist. They giggled and talked about boys; Catarina about her fresh new date in Drammen, and Johanne about her boyfriend in Portugal, whom she hoped to move in with as soon as she finished high school. She seemed happy and in love.

But when Catarina asked how things were at home, Johanne’s voice suddenly turned sombre: “It’s not easy at home now. My brother hates me,” she replied worriedly. At home, at the house at Eiksmarka in Bærum, a kind and caring older brother had been transformed into a neo-Nazi.

Courtroom conflict

“He shows no mercy. It is an outright execution,” said the prosecutor, Johan Øverberg, when the trial of accused terrorist and murderer Philip Manshaus finished last week. He was talking about the murder of Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen, who was shot and killed in her own bed on 10 August last year. Later that day, Manshaus attacked the Al-Noor Mosque at Skui in Bærum.

The prosecutor sought 21 years’ preventive detention* and argued that the 22-year-old appears dangerous in a long-term perspective. Lawyer for the defence, Unni Fries, had the opposite message. “There are too many things that makes me doubt that Philip Manshaus is of sound mind. I can’t let that go,” Fries said, citing several examples she believes suggest Manshaus has a distorted view of reality. With that, she argued against the wishes of her own client, and against the testimony of the three forensic psychiatrists.

(*A word on the Norwegian penal code: prison is primarily for rehabilitation. That means the penalty is restriction of liberty only. No other rights are removed, and life inside prison resembles life on the outside as much as possible. The maximum sentence is 21 years. In extreme cases, when necessary to protect society, a specific sentence known as preventive detention is given. This means that after the 21 years is up, if the perpetrator continues to be a threat to society, they will remain incarcerated, and then re-evaluated every 5 years.)

There are two eternal questions: Can Manshaus be held accountable or not? Were the murder and terrorist act ideologically motivated or were they a sign of mental illness? It depends who poses the question and which side they are on: in court, in politics and in ideology. But it doesn’t help the bereaved. Either way, Johanne is gone. Either way, fear is sown. Either way, the senselessness is all-encompassing.

CLOSE: This photo was taken on one of many holidays at Lista in southern Norway. Johanne (left) is about two and Catarina is three. They were both adopted from China when they were infants, and even though they grew up in separate families in Bærum and Drammen respectively, they were like sisters growing up, recounts Catarina.

The caring big brother

As the trial is coming to a close in Sandvika, Catarina Redisch, a childhood friend of Johanne and Philip, is at home in Drammen, trying to put into words what is still all jumbled-up in her mind and in her body.

– It’s surreal. Having an opinion on something and acting it out are two different things. It’s even more surreal when someone you know well, does something like this, she says.

She sits curled up on the sofa by the kitchen table. Fumbles a bit with a jar of lip balm. After months of corona restrictions, she is finally back in school, and able to put on her russ* overall and have fun with the girls on their bus. 13 years of school is nearly over, and she is just going to go with the flow and feel free.

(*Russ = high school seniors. Russ wear red or blue overalls. It’s common for a group of russ to buy a party bus to use for a month at the end of the final school year.)

But thoughts of Johanne, what she had said in the cabin just two days before she was murdered, and the incomprehensible atrocities of 10 August, are always at the back of her mind. Again and again she has heard the words, “Johanne is gone” and “Philip is the reason Johanne is gone”, yet it’s as if she can’t fully grasp what they mean.

– This is not the Philip I knew. I did not see the gradual change in him. I’ve grown up with him, and he was never like that with me, she says.

In court, Manshaus was described as a caring big brother, one who made sure that Johanne did not get too close to the road or the water’s edge. Johanne was his sister, not his “adopted step-sister,” as she has subsequently been called.

– Philip was very nice and kind. Quiet, a bit shy. He didn’t like conflicts. He never teased Johanne about her looks. Johanne looked up to him, says Catarina.

In this story, Philip Manshaus is the only perpetrator. She knows it well. Still, there is this nagging question. What could they have done to stop him?

– When I look back on those days, everything seems so crazily hopeless. Everything was just really, really poorly timed. We were just too late.

The sun cream

In the cabin loft that night, Johanne told Catarina she was beginning to fear Philip. Ever since he had returned home from the folk high school* in June, he had behaved worryingly. Johanne had shared her concerns with her mother Ellen. She had suggested action was needed; that they take him along on various activities and holiday trips, and introduce him to non-ethnic Norwegians. He had stopped listening to reason.

(*folk high schools are very free schools with no curriculum, no exams, no grades – the idea is that you learn more without that kind of pressure. Kids typically choose to attend a folk high school for a year after high school if they want to pursue a special interest, such as skiing, arts&crafts, media, outdoor living, organic living, self sufficiency, etc.)

ALMOST GROWN-UP: Catarina gave a speech and took photos at Johanne’s confirmation in June 2017. Philip Manshaus was there too.  – He was quite normal then. It must have been just before he turned, Catarina says today.

Over the last few weeks the situation had deteriorated. Philip had hinted that he would acquire semi-automatic weapons, and he had joined a gun club. When Johanne accepted a package delivered for him, she noticed that it contained a bulletproof vest. They had also noticed on the wall of his room a swastika, a Norwegian flag and a clip about the terrorist attack in New Zealand in 2019. She was concerned that he might hurt someone.

She also told Catarina about racism that had come much too close for comfort. Not only did Philip demonstrate increasingly vocal and extreme attitudes about anti-Semitism, Muslims and immigration – he also radiated a growing coldness towards her, his sister.

All her life, Johanne had been a natural part of the Manshaus family, just like the three brothers. The fact that she was adopted from China when she was nine months old had never been an issue. That had all changed now. Philip had started to ignore her, he refused to greet her boyfriend when he came to visit, and he made statements that were deeply hurtful and uncharacteristically cruel. These also came up during the trial.

That one time when Philip insisted Johanne and her Portuguese boyfriend could not have children because that would be “racial mixing”. Or when he claimed she was not his sister, because to be his sister, she would have had to be human, and she was an ape. Or the sun cream incident, when he noticed she was putting on sun cream; he asked slyly why she needed that, knowing full well this was a sore point and she felt insecure about her complexion. When she muttered it was to avoid being sunburnt, Philip replied it was because she wanted to be white, and not darken. Because the darker she became, the less human she became. The court was told that when Johanne felt hurt, Philip laughed.

Johanne’s mother Ellen shared two further incidents, once when the family was invited to a wedding and Johanne chose not to attend. Afterwards, Philip had told her that it was a good thing she was not there, because then it was an entirely white wedding.

THOUGHTFUL: Catarina Redisch is a russ this spring, and shares a party bus with her friends. Being at school and ‘rolling’ with the bus is intertwined these days. In the middle of it all, she follows the trial against Philip Manshaus, indicted for murder and terrorism, with whom she spent so much time growing up. Photo by Tom Henning Bratlie, Klassekampen.

And there was the time Ellen thought she overheard Philip say to his father, furiously: “How would you react if you had been placed in the same room as a Negro from when you were five years old?”.

Worried, Johanne messaged her boyfriend in Portugal. She was frustrated with Philip’s attitudes toward Muslims, Jews and gays, and noted that his room was full of Nazi propaganda and newspaper clippings about mass shootings. She wrote that it was painful and that she did not feel safe. In the final message, sent on 9 August 2019, she said that Philip was listening to a speech where Chinese were referred to as dirty and nasty. “Can you understand what I’m going through? This is madness,” she wrote to her boyfriend.

A still lake with great depth

Johanne and Catarina’s mothers, Ellen and Anne-Sophie, have been close friends since growing up together in Drammen and they have been like aunts to each other’s children. When Ellen met Philip’s father and moved into the Manshaus residence at Eiksmarka in Bærum, she kept her childhood home and her friends in Drammen. The families went on cabin trips together, on boat trips, on vacations and overnight visits, and celebrated each other’s birthdays and confirmations. The children played on trampolines, built snow caves, rode horses, played games and made bonfires on the islands in Middagsbukta Bay.

It was always the two of them. Sometimes Philip, sometimes other kids from the same family of friends, but always Catarina and Johanne. They were each other’s childhood, as Catarina said in her tribute at the funeral: “I feel I have lost part of my childhood. We have grown up together. You’ve always been someone who was just there and now you’re suddenly not. It’s incomprehensible. It’s absurd that I can no longer call you just to talk to you.”

Johanne was creative and artistic. She would always make up fun games and she loved to dance, draw, paint and use her hands. On the wall in Catarina’s room hangs a picture Johanne painted. She played the violin, enjoyed computer games and practiced martial arts, and she liked to cook. When they were together, they were proper horse girls; Johanne rode dressage and Catarina did show jumping.

Although she was shy growing up, Johanne was wise. “A still lake with great depth,” as Ellen said in her tribute. She saw situations and people very clearly.

As she grew older, she opened up more. An aspiring journalist grew forth, one who was curious, fond of writing and was never afraid of saying exactly what she thought. Johanne did well in school, and she never quit a project. She wrote a reportage on e-sport and made a documentary film about the participants on her White Busses school trip*. She was engaged in politics and social issues, and that last summer she was especially concerned about the protests in Hong Kong. She visited The 22 July Centre* with Ellen; the brochure was still in the car on 10 August, when Manshaus used it to drive to the Al-Noor Mosque.

(*In Year 9 or 10, many Norwegian school classes travel by bus to visit Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps and meet survivors. These school trips are called White Busses, after the Red Cross operation in 1945, where prisoners in concentration camps were rescued and brought to safety).

(*The 22 July Centre is a memorial centre, documenting the terrorist attacks in Oslo and at Utøya Island on 22 July 2011).

AMONGST FAMILY: For Ellen Ihle-Hansen it was important to bury her daughter in Drammen, her home town and a town Johanne loved. The 17-year-old is safe here, together with grandparents and great-grandparents. Photo by Tom Henning Bratlie, Klassekampen.

Johanne was both generous and caring. She did not have a large circle of friends, but she always supported her boyfriend and her good friends. And that night in the cabin in Numedal they clicked again, Johanne and Catarina. They had missed each other and decided to meet more often. Johanne was going to visit Drammen and Catarina would visit Bærum.

Warning signs

The following day, Thursday 8 August, Catarina and Johanne went hiking. The sun was shining, the air was fresh and summery, and the two girls ran up the mountain sides and enjoyed the view of the plateau. Johanne had a great time with the dogs, Baltus and Nova, and seemed happy again after the rather bleak conversation about Philip the night before.

But in Catarina’s head, Johanne’s words kept churning. That’s how she remembers it today.

When they returned to Drammen that afternoon, she decided to tell her sister and her mother. They were horrified. Admittedly, they had heard about Philip and his right-wing extremist turn in recent months, but never from Johanne’s perspective and never anything about weapons, a bulletproof vest or that he might harm someone.

It was now crystal clear to all three of them: this had gone too far. And the last thing they wanted, was to look back, burdened by not having acted in time if he suddenly attacked strangers on a bus or something equally terrible. They agreed that they would have to talk to Ellen and then contact the police or PST (the police security service).

On Friday 9 August, Catarina woke up with a a feeling of unease in her body. What if what Johanne had told her was secret – and what if Philip found out? She talked to her mother again and emphasised that they had to tread carefully so Johanne wouldn’t get in trouble.

That night, they were only seconds away from seeing each other again, the two childhood friends. Johanne and Ellen stopped by to hand over some clothes she had left behind in the cabin, but their paths didn’t cross; Catarina was out walking the dog.

Shooting in Bærum

It rained heavily on Saturday 10 August. In Drammen, Catarina had gone to work at a restaurant at a riding centre in Lier, and at Eiksmarka, Ellen left to buy horse feed. On the way, she would meet her friends in Drammen, Catarina’s mother and another friend, and have a meal at their usual haunt, Taj Mahal. Before leaving home, she peeked into Johanne’s room. “She slept soundly. She liked sleeping in the morning. She had been up late. When we went to bed, I heard her cleaning her room. I didn’t wake her. I usually did,” Ellen recounted in court. She considered going in to Philip’s room to say goodbye, but didn’t.

When Ellen met her friends in Drammen, Philip quickly became the subject of discussion. She had decided to notify the police and had already spoken to Johanne about it. She had full support, and the three friends discussed how to proceed. The time was right to intervene, and fast.

At the same time, Catarina had a break at work. She sat down behind the counter, picked up her phone and opened Snapchat. There, a friend in Bærum had just shared a screenshot of a newspaper headline: “Shooting at a mosque in Bærum”.

The thought struck her like lightning: It had to be Philip. Who else? She gathered up the threads – from the conversation with Johanne about the racism, the weapons and the vest, to the conversation in the family where they decided to report it. Checking the news, she saw the description “young white male”.

Catarina called her mother. “Where are you?” she shouted over the phone. Her mother calmly replied that they had just sat down at the Taj Mahal. “Have you seen the news?” Catarina continued, and told her about the shooting. Bærum, mosque, young, white male … It had to be Philip, Catarina asserted, but her mother was still calm: It didn’t have to be him, there could be many other people in Bærum, her mother replied, saying she had to call her back.

Catarina then called her sister Alexandra, who got equally stressed and hurriedly googled Philip Manshaus.

There she found a post on the Endchan forum, published under Manshaus’ full name, where he announced an attack and put himself into a succession of right-wing terrorists, as the chosen next-in-line. There was no longer any doubt. “It’s Philip,” Alexandra wrote to Catarina.

In slow motion

They quickly got in the car to go to Bærum, Ellen and her friend first, and Anne-Sophie, Catarina and Alexandra right behind. In the back seat, Catarina called Johanne continuously. She needed to tell her she was there for her, that she was not alone. Because how would it be for her now that everyone knew her brother had been shooting in a mosque?

There was no reply. Catarina kept calling. She called everyone: Johanne’s boyfriend, her Facebook friends and classmates, anyone who might know where the 17-year-old was. Meanwhile, her sister checked online newspapers, social media and online forums, where new shocking details about Philip and the events at the mosque were released.

When they reached Eiksmarka around seven that evening, the area around the Manshaus residence was cordoned off. Police and media were buzzing around, and the house was being searched. The police reported that the house was empty. No news about Johanne. Just the heavy silence of the blazing rain.

Ellen got past the police tapes, while Catarina, Alexandra and Anne-Sophie decided to drive around and search. They had to do something, they couldn’t just sit and wait, they told each other in the car. Maybe Johanne was hiding somewhere?

«The thought has struck me, if I had been there, he would have shot me too»

— CATARINA REDISCH

They drove around Eiksmarka, down to the centre of Sandvika, up to Johanne’s school, over to the stables and down to Lysaker River where she used to walk the dogs. “Drive carefully!”, Catarina shouted to her mother, worried that they would run off the road. They halted, ran around shouting Johanne’s name and drove on, stopping everywhere. Soon they were wet through and cold. On the slippery trail along the river, her mother fell and tore the knee off her trousers while her sister ruined her shoes. They kept going for two hours, until a policeman suddenly called. Yes, we are looking, and so should the police be doing! Catarina’s mother told to him over the phone. The policeman replied briefly, gave them an address of a meeting place and told them to come immediately.

The drive took fifteen minutes. It was the longest fifteen minutes in Catarina’s life.

The screams

On the way over, the news fell into their laps like a rock: “Dead person found in home associated with the mosque shooting.” Catarina’s sister was reading aloud from the news, but was quickly told to be quiet. There was no point in anticipating grief, said Catarina and Anne-Sophie, convinced it had to be someone else, that people who kill others is something that happens in movies, far beyond this world, not here and now, not with Johanne. The thought that Philip could attack strangers was cruel, but the thought that he might have done something to Johanne, his own little sister, was impossible.

NEVER FORGET: Catarina looks up photos of Johanne on her phone. They were together just before the murder in August last year and had many plans. Now Catarina wants to bring the memory of her childhood friend out into the open. Photo by Tom Henning Bratlie, Klassekampen.

At the same time, at Eiksmarka, time had stopped. A scream echoed through the neighbourhood. Ellen had been sitting in the car outside the house, watching the police come and go, waiting for answers about her daughter when an ambulance suddenly arrived. The world began collapsing. Why, she asked a policeman, who replied with a despondent look in his eyes that he still couldn’t say anything. When the message came, that undeniable message that Johanne had been found, everything fell apart. Ellen screamed and screamed; people had to hold her to prevent her from entering the house, she explained in court.

The assembly house

Soon any remaining doubt vanished for Catarina, too. When they arrived at the assembly house, they found Ellen lying on a sofa, crying. All around her, people were hugging each other.

Two hours after the emergency squad and the bomb squad had began searching the house, they could finally share that Johanne was found in her bed, covered by a duvet. Earlier in the day, about a quarter past two, she had been on the phone with another family member, and as soon as Ellen had left home, at some point before three o’clock, Philip had entered her room, armed with a long rifle. She lay there defenceless as he shot her, three gunshots in the head and one in the chest. She died instantly.

When police searched the house that night, they noticed a collection of family photos on a shelf in the living room. One of them was turned face down. It was a photo of Johanne as a child.

At the assembly house, Catarina collapsed on a chair. Around her, health care professionals walked about. One of them sat down and asked her a question, but Catarina couldn’t answer. After pulling herself together, she picked up her phone and called all those who were waiting for answers – Johanne’s boyfriend, her childhood friends and classmates. Later that night, she was questioned by the police, but she couldn’t find the words, or remember things in the right order.

NEW YEAR’S PARTY: In 2013, the two friends celebrated the coming of the new year together.

When they finally drove home to Drammen, it was past four in the morning. Catarina was exhausted and weeping, but determined to see Johanne. She walked over to the bookshelf in the corner of the living room, pulled out one photo album after the other, and stared down at all the memories. There they were, the two childhood friends, two and three years old, sitting on the grass in their pink tops, fiddling with a dummy. They ran around in a children’s birthday party with their faces full of popsicle juice. They smiled at the photographer, while sitting in a bunk bed on one of many cabin trips. They baked gingerbread cookies and gathered russ cards (‘business cards’ from the high school graduates, collectables for little kids). They stood with the wind in their hair, laughing in front of the London Eye, with their mothers and a good friend and with their whole lives ahead of them.

In the photo album, the world was unchanged; the memories were there just as they were yesterday and would be tomorrow.

An unequivocal motive

“A failed terrorist,” the newspapers said about Philip Manshaus in the days that followed. At the mosque, he had been clumsy and stressed, unable to cock the rifle, and was quickly overpowered by 66-year-old Mohammad Rafiq, who kept him on the ground until the police arrived.

The events were referred to as the “mosque shooting in Bærum”, while the murder of Johanne, his own little sister, was characterised by ambiguities and ended up in the background.

– Fortunately he did not succeed, it is said. But he did take a life, Catarina says quietly, sitting at the kitchen table at home in Drammen.

She has been thinking back to those August days. Was there anything they could have done? Anything that could have made a difference? Could they have notified the police in time? She thinks not.

– I’m sure there are some who blame themselves, but they should not. Everything happened so fast. If we had called PST (police security service) on 9 August, they might not have had time to do anything by the 10th, she says, recalling that after all, PST had received a tip about Manshaus the year before, in June 2018, without any follow-up.

The police had various theories as to why Johanne was killed, and newspapers long speculated as to whether it was by chance, that she might have gotten in the way or tried to stop Philip. Even at her funeral, she was referred to as a hero who probably averted the loss of several lives.

A month later, on 17 September, it became clear that Johanne was killed because she was of Asian origin. During the trial, it was undeniable. There, the prosecution presented Manshaus’ planning list for 10 August. Along with the address of the mosque and the name of the weapons, it said in capital letters: “MURDER AT HOME”.

POPSICLES: At Johanne”s home in Bærum, popsicles were a big hit. They always had fun together. Johanne is about four years old here and Catarina is five.

Manshaus explained that he killed Johanne to protect their parents from getting into trouble in an upcoming “race war”, where they would be considered racial traitors by the resistance movement. “She represents a group that threatens my people. My people are experiencing an invasion,” he said during the questioning.

They have to live with this: Johanne’s mum, Philip’s dad, and the rest of the family. Catarina also has a lot to take in. She is adopted herself, but she has never felt different in any way.

– The thought struck me that if I had been there he would have shot me too. Because I am also adopted. I look like Johanne, I am also from China. Although I am Norwegian and feel Norwegian, I am apparently not Norwegian enough for people like Philip.

The regret

When someone vanishes out of your life, thoughts appear about what you could have done differently. For Catarina, they came to the surface during the annual River Festival in Drammen last year, just days after the murder. She and Johanne always used to go to the festival together, to the fun fairs, the concerts and the street parties. But when Catarina started junior high school, she made new friends and would rather hang out with the new, cool people in her class than with Johanne, who was one year younger.

Thinking back, Catarina remembers a time when she saw Johanne at the festival, alone with her mother, because Catarina would rather be with her school friends. It’s a stabbing pain in her stomach.

– Maybe I was a bad friend sometimes. I wish I had told her one more time that I cared about her, she says quietly, twisting a hair band around her fingers.

During the worst of it last autumn, Catarina was sometimes late for school.

– It was hard to sleep and to sit still and concentrate. Then you start thinking. I’ve never had problems sleeping before, so it must have been because of this.

She had good support at school, and she saw a psychologist. But most often it was best to just stay home, with her mum and sister, or to be alone in the quiet. She wrote a letter to Johanne and she wrote a tribute. There were things she had to say.

The ‘little’ everyday racism

Once again, it had become so very clearly demonstrated that racism leads to violence. Catarina felt a responsibility to speak up, and said yes to give an appeal during a memorial ceremony on 9 October. “We fall between a rock and a hard place. We are Norwegian, but not Norwegian enough,” she said from the podium in front of Stortinget (the Norwegian Parliament).

It was touching to feel the unity that day, she said. But she also brought up an unpleasant fact. Because behind all the talk of the mystery that was Philip Manshaus and the terror of 10 August, behind all the tributes and promises, something was not mentioned: Racism did not start with Philip. Racism was not only found in the dark corners of the Internet and in closed-off, extremist subcultures. Racism was everywhere, in everyday life, in the schoolyard and in comments people threw around.

Later in the cabin that night, Johanne told Catarina that she had low self-esteem because she looked different. Over the years, she had heard negative comments about her skin colour and her eyes and been called “yellow”. Catarina thinks that helps explain why she was so quiet and reclusive and spent so much time in her room.

But in the appeal in front of Stortinget, no one was allowed to forget who Johanne really was: “She was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend – and now she has become something bigger than that. For better or worse. For me, she will always be Johanne, my friend Johanne.”

This article is based on conversations with Catarina Redisch, Ellen Ihle-Hansen, Anne-Sophie Redisch and Alexandra Redisch, as well as testimonies from witnesses and the perpetrator Philip Manshaus during his trial in Asker and Bærum District Court.

She visits the grave every day

Ellen Ihle-Hansen visits the grave of her daughter Johanne every day. When the time comes, she will also visit Philip.

It brings peace to come here, to the grave at Bragernes in Drammen. On this day, it’s awash with flowers in the May sunshine.

“It’s painful, but this is something I can do for Johanne now, to care for her grave,” she says.

She has lost a child, and now she tells us in a clear and steady voice how she feels.

– I’m in an extremely challenging situation. I miss Johanne so much. The grief is enormous. I carry it with me all the time. I’m also concerned for Philip, the Philip I know. At the same time, I feel anger towards him.

Had Johanne been here now, she would have been looking forward to the summer holidays, to celebrating her 18th birthday on 18 June, and to getting her driving license, her mother says. Mum and daughter would probably have taken a girls’ trip this summer, as they used to. Last summer they went to Skagen (in Denmark), and they had planned to spend the autumn school holiday in Rome.

– It seemed like so much fell into place for her last summer. She was so happy. I want to call her joyful. A friend of hers wrote in a letter to her: “Happiness was your way to the end.” It described her well.

The animals – and sleep

Following the trial was exhausting and tough, but also important in order to move on, Ellen says. It is a long process and she’s taking it one day at a time. She is very tired, she says, and still on sick leave, although she is determined that she will soon return to her job as an intensive care nurse at Oslo University Hospital. Great colleagues await, who will do everything they can to make it as easy as possible for her.

These days, her horse and the dogs are especially precious. They are there for her regardless, always happy, no matter how tired she is. And the childhood friends are never far away; they live close by one another in Drammen. She writes a diary and she manages to sleep. Sleep has become therapy, she says. She and Philip’s father have also stayed together, although she is unable to live in the house at Eiksmarka; she feels it is a crime scene.

The eyes are completely dead

Johanne’s mother says she dreaded testifying at the trial, and she especially dreaded seeing Philip. At the same time, she is relieved she was allowed to be in the same room while testifying. The original plan was that all testifying had to be done over video link because of the danger of infection.

– I needed to be able to speak directly to him and try to connect with him somehow.

– Did you feel you succeeded in connecting?

– Yes, at the beginning of a break, Philip suddenly looked at me. Our eyes met for two or three seconds. I can picture his eyes very clearly and I have thought about it many times. I’ve tried to get a hold of something and read something in his eyes, but I can’t. Because I don’t think there’s any life in those eyes at all. They are completely dead.

One of the hardest things was hearing others’ testimonies, explains Ellen.

“I miss and grieve for Johanne so much. I carry it with me all the time »

ELLEN IHLE-HANSEN

– It was terribly painful to hear the victims from the Al-Noor mosque testify. I was genuinely upset when I learnt what the terrorist attack has done to them.

On the last day in court, lawyer for the defence, Unni Fries, asked for Manshaus to be acquitted because she believes there is doubt about his sanity.

– I was very surprised. It was amazing how she did that. I felt she was very sincere.

– Do you have any thoughts now before the verdict is announced?

– No, now I’m completely open. As I see it, it can go both ways. In fact, I don’t know what I would prefer.

– Do you find that you now have answers to your questions?

– Not what I’m wondering about the most: When – and what situation, which event – caused Philip to get onto this particular track? Otherwise, I felt I got confirmation that he must be ill. Of course, this is my subjective thought. I have known another Philip, one whom I loved very much.

– Do you want to meet him at some point?

– Yes, I will, if he wants to meet me. But not yet. It’s much too soon. Everything has to calm down. That will require time and strength.

Outraged by the debates

Ellen Ihle-Hansen is standing straight. She is taking her life back. But she is also very concerned about the lessons we, as a society, must learn from a trauma like this. Facing Philip’s radicalisation, she tried to read up on how to handle it, but soon felt powerless.

– We should not confront; that will only strengthen the resolve. Instead, we should ask pondering questions. That requires insight and is very challenging, too challenging for many in a normal parent-child relationship. From the outside, from a distance, you’ll see things more clearly, but as a parent you are too close to your children to be able to see the dangers and be objective. It’s crucial to be very aware and to react sooner rather than later. The threshold for getting help and speaking out must be lowered. It’s not easy to do it alone. It is almost hopeless.

In the midst of her grief, she feels anger when reading negative comments related to the children in the Moria refugee camp and to NRK’s Eid-al-fitr broadcast. (*The national broadcaster, NRK, reported from this year’s Eid celebrations after Ramadan. Some commenters are critical (and offensive), as they think a national broadcaster should not cover a holiday that is not culturally Norwegian).

– I want to cry just thinking about it. I know so very well what such attitudes can lead to. I’ve felt it so personally, felt it in my body. I react so strongly, but at the same time, I need to get it out there. I’ve thought about what I can do. How I can contribute to changing attitudes.

It’s unworthy of a rich country like Norway to still have such a strong element of xenophobia, she thinks. She worries it will give rise to more conflict.

– We must all strive to live in an enriching diverse community with understanding and acceptance. Johanne was passionate about the struggle for democracy. I know my words are in her spirit.

JOHANNE ZHANGJIA IHLE-HANSEN
– 17-year-old Johanne was murdered in her own home at Eiksmarka in Bærum on 10 August 2019. Her older brother, Philip Manshaus (22), executed her before he attacked the Al-Noor Mosque at Skui, where he failed and was overpowered.
– Johanne was adopted from China when she was nine months old, and grew up in the Manshaus family. She was a student at Sandvika high school, had a boyfriend, good friends and have been described as wise, caring and resourceful.
– The murder was motivated by racism, and the goal of the attack on the mosque was to scare muslims. During the past two years, Manshaus had developed an anti-democratic and violent Nazi mindset. He is indicted for murder and terrorism.
– The trial was concluded on Wednesday 20 May, and it is unclear when sentencing will be announced. The prosecutor has asked for 21 years of preventive detention, while Manshaus’ defence council  has asked for acquittal because she thinks there is doubt as to Manshaus’ sanity.

*******

On 11 June, Philip Manshaus was sentenced to 21 years’ preventive detention, and has to serve a minimum of 14 years. The deadline for appealing was 25 June. He did not appeal the verdict, as he does not acknowledge the justice system. That means the verdict is final and enforceable.