PARIS — Last weekend started with a spree of violence that shook the City of Light, but ended with an outpouring of hope and appreciation for life and brotherhood.
I watched my friends stumble into my flat in tears just after 10 p.m. Friday night. They’d ran from a shooting about a 10-minute walk away from my home. We thought it was a one-off event, but once we turned on the news, we learned it was one in a handful of targeted attacks across the city.
We stayed indoors. We listened to the police sirens and helicopters outside the window until the early hours of Saturday morning.
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When we woke up and headed outdoors, Paris was covered in police tape. Place de la Republique — typically buzzing with skateboarders, commuters and vendors, had a sombre vibe. This is where locals came together to hold candlelight vigils and gatherings following the shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo last January.
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On Rue Bichat, where at least 10 people died, a single row of flowers and candles were left outside of Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge. There was still sawdust on the ground to absorb the blood from the previous night’s tragedy.
I interviewed locals, who each had their own story to tell: one woman knew a handful of the victims who were inside of Le Petit Cambodge. They were 19, maybe 20 years old, she said. She left them a bouquet of flowers, she was in tears.
Another man, Etienne Faux, watched a single gunman walk down the street from his apartment window. He called his roommate to tell him not to come home. His roommate thought he was telling a joke.
I went home to file stories, but when I came back out, the crowds — at Place de la Republique and on Rue Bichat — were overwhelming. People left piles of candles, paper and markers by the sites, so that anyone could light a candle and share their message.
By Sunday afternoon, the streets were packed, terraces were full, and locals were going about their day. If you wanted to light a candle or leave a message at Republique, or in front of the restaurants, you were among hundreds who were trying to do the same. The single row of flowers I saw on Saturday morning has turned into — literally — heaping piles.
I did radio interviews and was asked repeatedly: Are the French angry? Are they blaming anyone?
No. Every message I’ve read, and in every interview I’ve conducted, I’ve only heard of hope, of staying strong and resilient. The focus has been on appreciating life, of a return to brotherhood, of sending condolences to those who lost their lives and to their families.
Here’s what my friends and I have captured in the days following the attacks.
“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as idiots”
“Liberté, égalité, fraternité” or “Freedom, equality, fraternity”