Published January 11, 2013
As I thought about what to write in this space, the typical things came to mind—reflections on 2012, hopes and plans for 2013, a glorified table of contents… But in the end I thought, why not relay a simple Christmas story, which in many ways says so much more about the Iceland of today than any of those other ideas.
It’s the story of Matthías Máni Erlingsson, a twenty-four-year-old who escaped from Iceland’s maximum-security prison on December 17 and managed to evade authorities for an entire week.
From the moment that he escaped, the media published story after story about him and the public followed obsessively. Needless to say, it’s not every day that the media and public have a fugitive on the loose, let alone one serving five years for the attempted murder of his step-mother with whom he had an affair.
Every single police officer in the country and 50 some search and rescue personnel were looking for Matthías and the public was repeatedly warned to stay away if they spotted him, as he was considered highly dangerous and “equipped like Rambo.”
The exciting manhunt finally came to a close early Christmas Eve morning when Matthías knocked on a farmer’s door in rural Ásólfsstaðir and asked to be turned in to the police.
“We started to talk to the boy through the kitchen window and offered him soup and smoked meat. We handed it to him through the window, but he seemed easy to talk to so we took him inside,” the farmer told the media on Christmas Day.
“When he came inside, we gave him some coffee and Christmas cake and talked to him. He said he didn’t want to let his family suffer by hiding over Christmas. Then we just waited for the police and he ate.”
While most people spent their holiday with family and friends, this Icelandic family spent part of theirs with an armed fugitive sitting in their living room. There is just something so wonderfully Icelandic about the whole thing, a true Icelandic Christmas story to carry us into the New Year.