Julia Plottel ’17 was sitting in her Paris house on Friday night waiting to go out with some friends when she noticed several missed calls on her cellphone. After receiving texts from her parents asking if she was all right, she saw a BBC News headline pop up on her screen: “Terror Attacks in Paris.”
“At first it was just a few injured, and then it was eight injured, and then it was 18, and then it was like, people are being held hostage, and then it was like over a hundred people are dead,” Plottel said. “Just to watch that progression of violence was surreal.”
The Friday terror attacks in Paris, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility, left 129 people dead. As soon as she heard about the attacks, Marne Ausec, director of the Center for Global Engagement, said she reached out to Plottel and Gala Patenkovic ’17, who is also studying abroad in Paris this semester, via email to ensure their safety. Ausec said she also received emails from two students who were visiting Paris at the time — Anya Schulman ’17 and Kelsey Overbey ’17 — as well as from Thais Henriques ’17, who is studying in Nice, and Lucy Vincent ’17, who is studying in Montpellier; all confirmed their safety.
Schulman, who is studying abroad in London but was visiting Paris for the weekend, said she spent the majority of her time in Paris on lockdown. When Schulman first heard of the attacks, she was traveling with a friend to the Paris Opera House, which is about 12 minutes away by car from the site of a drive-by shooting attack.
Schulman immediately began planning her return to England, uncertain when the borders would open again after François Hollande, president of France, declared a state of emergency on Friday that shut them down. Schulman left Paris Saturday night, though she was planning to stay through Monday morning.
“In terms of altering my cultural consciousness, this by far has been the experience with the greatest magnitude and impact on my thinking,” Schulman said in a Skype call. “I’ve been asked if I want to go home — I don’t.”
Matthew Eley ’15 lives in La Roche-sur-Yon, a French town about three hours west of Paris.
“I was in Paris not three weeks ago and I found the city to be remarkably at ease,” Eley said. “One could not have imagined the events of last week unfolding.”
Eley was not immediately aware of the attacks as they happened, he said, because he was not using the Internet that night. However, it did not take long for the aftershock of grief to spread.
“I have an acquaintance here whose friend’s father was killed in the attacks, and this was a somber and sobering reminder of the reality of last weekend’s massacre,” Eley said. “Even in La Roche, the pains of Paris were and are felt keenly.”
Plottel, who was supposed to fly back to the U.S. for a family party, is now uncertain of her travel plans after two Paris flights have been grounded since Friday due to bomb threats.
“You want to keep living your life as you normally do,” Plottel said. “But at the same time, you want to be cautious and just be aware about what’s going on around you.”
Plottel said people in France have been resilient in the wake of the tragedy.
“You can tell that they’re really fighting back,” she said. “And they’re not letting it inhibit their daily movements, their daily lives.”
Alex Pijanowski and Grace Richards contributed reporting.