Queen's accounts on Paris attacks

Queen’s students and alumni grapple with the Nov. 13 attacks that took the world by shock

The vigil at Place de la Republique after the attacks.
The vigil at Place de la Republique after the attacks.
Credit: 
Supplied by Katarina Marsiglio

For most Queen’s students the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris seemed a world away — but for some students, they were right outside their doors.

The Journal messaged students and alumni in France and in Kingston who were, and still are, directly affected by the events of Nov. 13.

These are their stories from that painful night.

Read Shane's story: “At one point I stepped out onto my balcony where I could glance at the Eiffel Tower, in a confused hope that by seeing it, it might help me understand."

Read Charly's story: “I wanted to be with only French people, because we all shared that grief and state of shock, and Canadian people didn’t really understand.”

Read Lilly's story: “If you’re reading this, happy birthday Mom. Love you.”

Read Katarina's story: "Kat, don't go outside. Stay at your place and stay safe, there are shootings going on all over Paris."

Read Candice's story: “I was trying to walk into Monoprix [the grocery store] the other day with a baguette under my arm, and [security] had to stop me to check if it was actually a baguette.”

Read Claire's story: "People were dropping down under tables, and trying to run away ... It’s also hard not to assume the absolute worst after something like this has happened.”

Read Jonathan's story: “While the world prayed for Paris and showed their support with hashtags, tricoloures and the more than occasional photo of the Eiffel Tower, Paris got on with living.”

 

Shane Senécal-Tremblay, ArtSci ’13 — Eiffel Tower, Place de la Republique, Paris

For Shane Senécal-Tremblay, a Queen’s alum, a single photograph stands out from the day of the attacks.

As a student at the Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs, Senécal-Tremblay was heading to a night class on Nov. 13 as the sun was setting.

“It was a nice day, so I rode into school on one of the city’s bike-share ‘Vélibs’, stopping on the way to snap an iPhone photo of the Eiffel Tower,” Senécal-Tremblay, ArtSci ’13, wrote via Facebook Messenger.

He said that photograph is now a “haunting” reminder of a once-peaceful day.

It wasn’t until he arrived back at his apartment that night that he got word of the attacks. Across the city,130 people were killed by gunmen in a coordinated terrorist attack. 

“At one point I stepped out onto my balcony where I could glance at the Eiffel Tower, in a confused hope that by seeing it, it might help me understand,” he said.

That night, he remembers how quiet the city felt.

When Senécal-Tremblay left his apartment the next morning, he witnessed Parisians refusing to alter their routines and using the phrase “meme pas peur” — “not even scared”.

“I think most people felt both outside of themselves, and distant from others,” he said. In what he believed was an effort to break this isolation, a Sunday night vigil was organized at Place de la Republique.

“I’d never been to anything like that before. The media generally focuses on the people crying so I didn’t realize how many people there would be laughing, conversing, debating.”

He said he watched a group of young artists create the Peace for Paris symbol from candles, which “must have taken them two hours”.

Afterwards, a rose vendor tore the petals off his flowers, and scattered them across the display.

For Senécal-Tremblay, the vigil demonstrated the character of the city. Within their “great sadness”, there came an “unconquerable strength”, he wrote.


Senécal-Tremblay lights a candle at the vigil (Supplied by Shane Senécal-Tremblay)


The memorial created by young artists (Supplied by Shane Senécal-Tremblay)

 

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   Charly Hunter, (Exchange from Paris) — Kingston

For Charly Hunter, thousands of miles couldn’t tear his heart from France on Nov. 13.

On exchange at Queen’s from Sciences Po Paris, the Saint Etienne native was exiting a class and scrolling through Twitter, when he saw news of the attacks.

“It was about 20 minutes after the beginning of the killings, so people didn’t really know what was going on,” he told The Journal via Facebook Messenger.

“As the minutes passed, identified journalists began to share news on Twitter, as well as photographs. It was devastating.”

Hunter immediately sought the solace of a familiar face.

“I then remember going to a French friend of mine, and crying on the way there. We then sat in front of the French equivalent of CNN,” he said.

For him, the worst moment was hearing the reporters speak with gunshots in the background. 

“I knew my cousin was having a party in the very area the shootings happened, and the phone network was shot, so she wasn’t able to communicate with me until three hours after,” he said.

He said people around him were extremely supportive. He received “countless” messages of support and was pleased to see the University’s commemoration event and official responses, he added.

However, he said, he spent the day after the attacks with other French students.

“I wanted to be with only French people, because we all shared that grief and state of shock, and Canadian people didn’t really understand.”

 

Lilly Sheng, Comm ’17 — HEC School of Management, Paris

“If you’re reading this, happy birthday Mom. Love you.”

So began a blog post by Lilly Sheng, Comm ’17, the day after the attacks.

Sheng had documented her exchange at the HEC School of Management since she arrived on a blog called “Where On Earth Is Lilly?” Her Nov. 14 post, however, took on a heavier tone than usual.

Sheng had been on a train journey from Paris to Marseille the night before while the attacks occurred. She didn’t have an Internet connection during the commute, so she was informed of events by a hostel employee when she arrived in Marseille.


Marseille after the attacks (Supplied by Candice Choi)

“I was so confused. And then they told me over a hundred people had died. Borders were closed. Apparently my train was locked down for awhile,” she wrote in the post.

“I couldn't believe this was happening to Paris — beautiful, sophisticated Paris,” she told The Journal via Facebook Messenger.

Sheng soon learned that a classmate had been killed at the Bataclan concert venue during the attacks. In her message to The Journal, she said she “still [had] goosebumps” writing about it.

“That night, I went to bed genuinely afraid of waking up to another world war. Someone kept saying Word War III would be over quickly because of nukes, and it made me feel so sick.”

She said she was especially frightened after watching President Hollande’s address. However, she said she believes in the spirit of the French people in response to great tragedies.

“I think people are very brave. There is a sense that we cannot let terrorists destroy our way of life in France,” she said.

“Les méchants sont partout, mais il faut vivre quand même,” she said — “the wicked are everywhere, but you must live anyway.”

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    Katarina Marsiglio, Comm ’17 — ESCP Europe, Paris

At around 5 p.m. on Nov. 13, the weekend had just begun. Katarina Marsiglio — on exchange at ESCP Europe — climbed aboard a train from Paris to London.

As it rode along the tracks, a single text message alerted Marsiglio, Comm ’17, of the horrific news.

“I didn't really know what was going on at first, but then I kept on getting more and more messages with my friends and family,” she wrote via Facebook Messenger.

“[They were] saying things like, ‘Kat, don't go outside. Stay at your place and stay safe, there are shootings going on all over Paris’”.

In the days since the attacks, she has returned to Paris and ventured to each of the attack sites — experiences she said moved her to tears.

“I take the bus to school every morning and pass by the ‘Belle Equipe’ restaurant, where one of the attacks took place,” she said.

“It was a little shocking going at first, because you could see shattered glass and the bullet holes from the shootings.” 

But she said every time she passes by, the restaurant is crowded with people paying their respects or leaving flowers at the site.

She added that she’s seen an outpouring of love across the city and online.

“Locals [refuse] to let these attacks change and dictate their lives. They haven't stopped going to cafés and restaurants, and going about their lives.”

“These attacks have reminded them to hold their loved ones close.”

 



Memorials for the victims of the attacks. (Supplied by Katarina Marsiglio)

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     Candice Choi, Comm ’17 — IAE Aix-Marseille Graduate School of Management, Aix-en-Provence

Twenty minutes outside of Marseille in the south of France, Candice Choi learned about the attacks in her dorm room.

On exchange at the IAE Aix-Marseille Graduate School of Management, Choi, Comm ’17, said everyone stayed in that night. They were in their rooms when the news was delivered. 

“Most people didn't even find out [until] a lot later on, because the south is kind of removed from the rest of Paris,” she said via Facebook Messenger.

Although the night of the attacks was relatively calm, she said the changes she’s witnessed since have been substantial.

“You see military people walking around holding these huge guns,” Choi.

Choi says there have been security and weapon checks in the dorm rooms and I.D. and bag checks at the entrance to the university, despite the rural setting.

“I was trying to walk into Monoprix [the grocery store] the other day with a baguette under my arm, and [security] had to stop me to check if it was actually a baguette.”

 

            Claire Davies, ArtSci ’17 — Sciences Po, Paris

Over a lighthearted dinner at a restaurant in Paris, Claire Davies spoke with a friend about the “serendipitous” moments they had experienced so far in the city.

“During that conversation, innocent people were being shot at a random restaurant, 10 minutes away,” Davies, ArtSci ’17, said via Facebook Messenger.

After they heard the news, the two quickly found a hotel down the street to stay the night.

“Watching the news and hearing the sirens outside the hotel window was frightening. I didn’t get to sleep until 5 a.m.”

For Davies, the attacks struck close to home. Two of her friends were at the stadium where the attacks took place.

“They heard and then felt the bombs outside the stadium, but just thought they were fireworks,” she said.

Her school, Sciences Po Paris, was still open the Monday afterwards, but was evacuated after a suspicious bag was discovered. While the threat turned out to be a false alarm, the event caused panic among students, she said.

“It was frightening. People were dropping down under tables, and trying to run away ... It’s also hard not to assume the absolute worst after something like this has happened.”

Friends and family have been paramount in handling the tragedy, Davis said.

“I had messages from people who I hadn’t talked to since high school making sure me and my friends were safe. I could definitely feel the love.”

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      Jonathan Edge, MPA ’08 — 6th Arrondissement, Paris

At the local pub in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, alumnus Jonathan Edge expected to sit back and watch the coverage of the France v. Germany soccer match held in the Stade de France.

“I strongly considered going,” he wrote via Facebook Messenger. “I’m now very glad I didn’t make it.”

Edge, Comm ’06 and MPA ’08, instead watched the game from the Le Gaulois pub as the attacks unfolded.

After an emergency news interruption during the sports coverage, he returned home for safety.

Edge says he stayed up well into the night to follow news coverage and respond to concerned messages from friends and family.

These messages came from all across the globe — “Canada to China, Sweden to South Africa” — but he said the actions of Parisians left the strongest impression on him.

“While I appreciated the messages from abroad, I will never forget sitting in my apartment, alone and scared, receiving inquiries from others doing the exact same thing across the city,” he wrote.

“[We were] all wondering when the madness would end and what tomorrow would bring. Parisians reached out to each other that night and cared for one another.”

He said the city was resilient in the wake of disaster.

“While the world prayed for Paris and showed their support with hashtags, tricoloures and the more than occasional photo of the Eiffel Tower, Paris got on with living.”

“Along Rue du Cherche Midi, boulangeries sold baguettes to waiting customers, restaurants served patrons lunch on the terraces, children rode bicycles in the streets where couples walked arm in arm.”

Edge couldn’t put his finger on what it was that prompted such a display of resilient normalcy.

“Maybe it was Parisian self-interest. Maybe it was defiance. Maybe Paris is simply getting used to such violence,” he wrote.

On the final night of the official period of national mourning, Edge visited the Place de la Republique. There, he said, poignant messages were scattered among hundreds of flowers and candles.

He described a crowd that formed around a young man, who played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on his guitar and sang the lyrics in broken English from a notepad.

“Paris has known great sorrow, suffering similarly only months earlier. It will surely suffer again,” Edge wrote. However, he said he believes in the optimism of the Parisian spirit.

“Paris is a city that wears its heart on its sleeve, and that heart continues to beat — not with anger or fear, but with hope.”


Place de la Republique after the attacks. (Supplied by Shane Senécal-Tremblay)

 

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