Five-Year-Old's Death Shocks Norway

TRONDHEIM, Norway -- The police began to get an eerie feeling about this case not long after they saw the girl's body lying in the snow.

It wasn't just that she was 5 years old, beaten and partly undressed. It was the bootprints around her they couldn't fathom. They were tiny, nearly as small as the girl's.

By the following afternoon three male suspects were in custody and talking, although it wasn't easy holding their attention. They were 5 and 6 years old.

"As they were telling their stories to us they were sometimes suddenly singing children's songs or talking about something else,'' said Harald Moholt, criminal investigations chief for the Trondheim police. "They don't realize what has happened. They don't know anything about death or life.''

But by now all of Norway knows about the three boys and what they did last Saturday to their neighborhood playmate, Silje Marie Redergaard.

She died on a splendid day.

For a while she and her friends built snow forts and went sledding, celebrating the season's first big snowfall within 100 yards of their homes. Then, as the afternoon light dimmed and other friends drifted home, the play turned ugly. The boys began to hit and kick. Clothes were removed, although it is not yet clear by whom. One of the boys struck Silje Marie's head with a rock. She lost consciousness.

Then the boys went home.

Perhaps an hour later some other children found her lying beside the fir trees heavy with snow, on the corner of a playing field.

On Tuesday, the coroner concluded Silje Marie had frozen to death, but that was small consolation for a city of 145,000 where there are only one or two murders a year, usually committed by drunken adults.

"We have never had a case like this in Norway,'' Moholt said. "I have never heard of a case like this anywhere. There was the one in England (where two 10-year-old boys beat to death toddler James Bulger), but even they were twice as old.''

Norwegians have struggled to come up with their own theories as to what happened that snowy afternoon.

From the prime minister on down, they have blamed the influence of mass media and, in particular, violent television programming, in the girl's death.

Sweden's Channel 3, a regional commercial television station that broadcasts by satellite, responded by dropping its weekday afternoon broadcast of the popular American show, "Power Rangers,'' which features karate-chopping teens who beat and bash their way through their enemies.

Silje Marie's mother, Beathe, said she does not need an explanation. "We'll perhaps never understand what happened, or why, and I don't think we should speculate too much,'' she told Norwegian reporters. "For the first 24 hours we half expected Silje Marie to come running through the front door again, but now we've accepted her death.''

On Monday she and the girl's stepfather visited the home of one of the boys accused in the child's death and spent several hours talking and commiserating with his parents and insisting she forgave the boys for what they had done.

Moholt, the police inspector, echoed the view that all those in the incident were to be pitied. "This is a tragedy for all of us,'' he said. "We have only victims in this case.''

Silje Marie's stepfather went with his older stepdaughter, Line, to her school Monday, only a 100 yards through the woods from where Silje Marie died.

He told the school's students never to forget Silje Marie, but also to never seek vengeance against the three young boys. Headmaster Per Erik Eimhjellen followed up with his own words of advice. "We've been talking a lot about how to take care of each other,'' he said.

But when he sought an answer to help his students better understand what happened, he came up empty.

"There is no explanation,'' he said. "It is beyond our knowledge.''