For some Penn students, Friday’s attack in Stockholm, Sweden hit too close for comfort.
“I was just shocked,” College junior Lacey Chaum said of the attack, in which a man from Uzbekistan drove a truck down a crowded street, killing four.
“Before going abroad, I was worried something like this was going to happen, but not in Sweden," she said. "It was the first time I ever felt like Stockholm was unsafe.”
Chaum is studying abroad in in the Swedish capital, and was at her apartment when she heard the news. Her roommate, College junior Sarah Baer, was about to get onto the subway when, after an incomprehensible announcement in Swedish, she noticed something strange.
“The train stopped for a minute, and everyone around me was on their phones — which is highly unusual for Swedes on the subway. Everyone is usually very quiet,” Baer said.
But after asking a fellow passenger, she learned of the terrorist attack.
“It shakes you up a little bit for this to happen so close to home,” Baer said. “But I was thinking about the international reaction honestly, and how Sweden has been the poster child for immigrant asylum. I was very concerned that it would be immediately taken up by the anti-immigrant sentiment as basically ‘one more reason,’” to deny refugees access, she said.
According to The New York Times, Sweden has accepted the highest number of asylum-seekers per capita in all of Europe.
For some of the students studying abroad, the attack caused unease.
“It’s in such a central part of the city that so many of us walk by if not daily, then regularly,” Baer said. “That was the scary part, thinking about what could’ve been.”
Chaum was about to get on a train for a trip to Norway upon hearing the news — a trip that was cancelled due to the city’s transportation shutdown. But considering the central station in Stockholm is so close to the site of the attack, Chaum's "what if" is more frightening.
“If the attack had happened an hour later, I would’ve been there,” Chaum said. “So it’s scary.”
Although Chaum and Baer live in the Stockholm suburbs only 20 minutes from the site of the attack, for some Penn students back on campus, the tragedy also strikes close to home.
“My heart dropped,” College sophomore Natasha Allen, a Swedish citizen, said. “Most of my family is in Stockholm. I was worried that some of the victims — some of the people injured — were my family.”
Allen’s family was thankfully unharmed. But her safe childhood haven, the city and street where she spent her days eating and shopping with family, was shattered.
“When I grew up, Stockholm was always safe. I’d hear about the [United States] having a murder every single day, and in Sweden, nothing really ever happened,” Allen said. “[The attack] made me feel weird in that everything was a lie. This — the safest place I’ve ever been was no longer safe.”
Even more disheartening for Allen, however, is the backlash against Sweden’s Muslim community as a result of the attack.
“I have a lot of friends that are Muslim in Sweden, and to see that — it’s twofold. There are the victims affected by the attack, and then there’s a whole community that a lot of people unfairly target just because a few are extremists that twist religion,” Allen said. “I was frustrated. I was sad. I was in a grey area all of Friday. “
But in the wake of tragedy, Baer expressed hope.
“Thankfully, the Swedish people seem to really have united. A lot of solidarity came out of the moment,” she said.
“It was really nice to see the community you’re in come together like that."