Over the last twenty years in Iceland, an average of about two people have been murdered per year in the nation of a mere 336,000 people. In the years 2003, 2006, and 2008, not a single person was murdered. For perspective, there were 762 homicides in Chicago in the year 2016 alone. However, not even a month into 2017, the murder of a young woman has enthralled the entire nation of Iceland.
Birna Brjansdottir, a 20-year-old sales assistant who worked at a department store in a shopping mall, disappeared more than a week ago, after last being seen staggering down a street in downtown Reykjavik. Brjansdottir’s disappearance prompted the largest search-and-rescue operation in decades.
Icelandic police found Brjansdottir’s body on a beach approximately 20 miles southeast of Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. Furthermore, police said they were treating the case as a murder. Two sailors from Greenland, ages 25 and 30, have been arrested, but have not yet been charged with a crime.
Via NY Times:
As the disappearance dominated news bulletins across the country, about 775 rescue workers volunteered to search for the missing woman, who had distinctive red hair.
A few days later, after frantically scouring the Icelandic capital and its surrounding areas for clues, the police found her Doc Martens on a dock at Hafnarfjordur, a sleepy town on the outskirts of Reykjavik
After reviewing additional video footage from the scene, police noticed a fishing trawler from Greenland called the Polar Nanoqat docked nearby. Next to the dock where the Polar Nanoqat was stationed, the police spotted a small red car, which was parked there at 6:30 A.M. The surveillance video showed this car was the same model as the vehicle seen next to Brjansdottir before she vanished. Tracing the license plate, police learned that the car had been rented by two men from the Polar Nanoqat.
Via NY Times:
The men who were now the prime suspects in Ms. Brjansdottir’s death could be on the ship, but the Polar Nanoq had set off for Greenland days earlier. Fearful that the suspects would get beyond their reach, the Icelandic Coast Guard sent a helicopter with a squad of six special forces officers, known as the Viking Swat Team, to intercept the vessel, a spokesman for the Icelandic Coast Guard, Sveinn Gudmarsson, said.
About 90 minutes later, Mr. Gudmarsson said, the squad — part of the only armed police force in Iceland — rappelled onto the trawler and arrested the two fishermen, who did not resist. He said that the ship was aware “the Vikings” were pursuing them and had already altered course to return to Reykjavik. “The weather was bad and there were eight-meter-high waves,” he said. “The crew cooperated.”
The two suspects, who have been arrested, are Thomas Møller Olsen and Nikolaj Olsen. Both men are Greenlandic and members of the crew of the Greenlandic trawler Polar Nanoq. Møller has a criminal record after being arrested for selling drugs in Greenland.
Iceland had the third-lowest murder rate in 2012, behind just Liechtenstein and Singapore. Helgi Gunnlaugsson, a sociology professor at the University of Iceland, says that the reason this case has received so much attention in Iceland is not necessarily due to their low murder rates, but because the suspects were foreigners and the case had been such a mystery at first:
“Most murder cases in Iceland are not mysteries — the victims and their killers usually know each other, the murderer rarely seeks to cover up the crime, and cases are usually solved quickly,” Mr. Gunnlaugsson said. He added: “Foreign involvement is almost unheard-of. The reaction would be different if the suspects would’ve been two Icelandic boys.”
Not only has the case received widespread coverage in Iceland, but in Greenland, which has a population of 58,000 people. Approximately 400 of the 58,000 Greenlanders attended a memorial outside the Icelandic consulate in Nuuk, the country’s capital.
The Times spoke to Sigrun Skaftadottir, a 28-year-old D.J. in Reykjavik, to further elaborate on how the murder is impacting the Icelandic community. Skaftadottir said Brjansdottir’s murder was already changing people’s behavior, including prompting renewed interest in self-defense classes:
“Girls in my circle are either walking home with someone or taking a taxi, even if they are just traveling a few blocks,” she said. “I can’t stop thinking of all the times I walked home alone in Reykjavik, sometimes drunk, sometimes with music in my ears, engaging with strangers, even inviting random people at the bar to an after-party. Now I won’t do that again.