CAPE ELIZABETH – On Friday afternoon, Karin Berling, a Norwegian native, began receiving cryptic text messages.

“Sorry it happened to your country,” one said.

“Hugs to you. Can’t imagine what you’re feeling,” read another.

Berling, who grew up in Drammen, Norway, and now lives in Cape Elizabeth, didn’t understand. So she called her husband, who delivered the terrible news: A terrorist had set off a massive bomb in downtown Oslo, Norway’s capital of slightly less than 1 million people. Hours later, the same terrorist would massacre dozens of young people at a summer youth camp on Utoya, an island about 20 miles away.

In total, 76 people were killed; several others remain missing.

“Just horror, shock, disbelief,” said Berling, 38. “This is stuff we read about in America. This doesn’t happen in Norway.”

Berling is one of several hundred Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans living in Maine who have been shaken by the attacks on their normally peaceful homeland.

This weekend, the Maine Nordmenn, a fraternal organization that is home to a Sons of Norway lodge in Falmouth, sent an email to its 150 members urging them to hang the Norwegian flag from their homes. Members are also being asked to light candles for the dead, according to the group’s vice president, Gedske Szepsy.

Szepsy, who grew up in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, just returned from Norway several weeks ago. Her sister lives near Utoya.

“It was absolutely shocking,” said Szepsy, who now lives in Litchfield. She choked up when speaking of Friday’s tragedy.

“My first thought is it was al-Qaida. I think that was everyone’s first thought,” she added. “But to find out it was a blue-blooded Norwegian, I was really, really angry and shocked, that he could have so much hate in him to do something like that, especially to those children.”

Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian, has admitted to the bombing and opening fire on a youth group retreat on Utoya. Police found him hunting the children on the island with an automatic rifle, pistol and illegal “dum-dum”-style bullets — explosive rounds used to inflict the deadliest wounds possible, police said.

In a 1,500-page manifesto posted online, Breivik said it was the first step in a conservative Christian war against Islam, multiculturalism and liberalism.

The bomb went off near a building that houses the country’s prime minister, who is a member of the left-of-center Labor Party. The youth group retreat was a summer camp for the children of Labor Party members.

As is the case in most countries, portions of the public have some discontent with the government, said Anne-Lise Moson, another Norwegian immigrant living in Cape Elizabeth. And for some older Norwegians, the shift over the last few decades from a homogenous country to one of increasing diversity has been jarring.

But everyone in Norway and all Norwegian-Americans should unequivocally condemn these attacks, she said.

“Someone who would say this is bad but necessary certainly doesn’t have my ear as a reliable human being,” Moson said, paraphrasing statements by Breivik after his arrest. “This man has almost Nazi-type thinking in basically wanting us to go back to an Aryan state. He’s a scary man. There’s no doubt about it.”

Southern Maine has a small but thriving Norwegian community, with strong ties to the Scandinavian country and to businesses there. Jotul, a Norwegian company that sells stoves and fireplaces, has its North American arm based in Portland. Vingtech Corp. in Biddeford is a Norwegian company that makes high-tech optical equipment and lenses for the military and law enforcement.

Both companies have employees who moved from Norway to work for them, according to business representatives. Executives at the companies did not return messages for comment.

In addition to commerce, a group of Norwegian immigrants founded the First Evangelical Free Church of Maine in Westbrook. And Sons of Norway — a lodge that’s part of an international group based in Minnesota — has a contingent of native Norwegians, as well as first- and second-generation Norwegian-Americans who have settled in Maine.

Group members said they are still considering various memorials to honor the dead, to supplement the lighting of candles and flying of their nation’s red, white and blue flag from their homes.

But for now, many are still trying to recover from the shock of the country’s deadliest attack since World War II.

“Right now, we’re just numb,” Moson said. “We’re a very proud people. When people think of Norway, they think about things like winter Olympians and the Nobel Peace Prize. We don’t think of Norwegians doing what this man did to Norwegians. It’s just unimaginably painful.”

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be reached at 791-6437 or: [email protected]