Terror and death on a terrace full of 'beautiful, elegant and happy' young people
At the November 2015 terror trial, the first week of witness evidence came to an end with further testimony from those who survived the shooting attacks at the Belle Équipe bar in central Paris.
At the trial on Friday, a young woman stood before the crowded courtroom and cried uncontrollably for a man she met for the first and only time on the night of 13 November, 2015.
They got to know one another through a dating application. He suggested the rue Charonne for their first real encounter. It was a part of Paris she had never visited. She chose the terrace because she wanted to be free to smoke.
She survived, he did not.
She continued to weep as she told the court how the first volley of shots fired by three jihadist killers knocked her backwards, shattering her arm. The boy fell to the ground as well. In the sudden silence as the murderers reloaded their weapons, she reached out her good hand to pull him towards her in the relative safety of the terrace corner. He gripped her hand and tried to move. Then the shooting started again.
Au procès du 13-Novembre, les visages et les mots des rescapés de La Belle Equipe https://t.co/Qca1ZUf04z— Le Monde (@lemondefr) October 2, 2021
"I squeezed his hand as I have never held anyone before," she wept. "When it was over, I asked him three times 'Are you dead? Are you dead? Are you dead?' I didn't say 'Are you alive?'.
"My mother has been in contact with his parents. I have written them a long letter, but I have never been able to send it. Not yet, anyway.
"I feel no hatred for the attackers, no need for revenge. I'm exhausted. But I'm determined to live for those who didn't make it.
"I feel terribly guilty. I survived. I'm alive. But I had to learn to live again. I'm still searching for the 23-year-old me who laughed on that terrace six years ago."
Her sobs were the only sound in the vast, crowded room.
A warm place full of 'wonderful strangers'
Three friends were sitting at a table inside the same Belle Équipe when the shooting began. The two visitors from Grenoble found the atmosphere warm, friendly, joyous.
"The place was full of wonderful people that we didn't know."
And then there was darkness, chaos and the flashes of automatic weapons fire.
When the noise stopped, two of the three were physically unharmed, the third was seriously injured. The survivors did what they could, one administering heart massage in the hope that medical help would come quickly.
When the first ambulance crew arrived, the man was told to continue the massage: "that's good, keep it up".
Until another medical worker took his place briefly before standing up to say "I'm sorry. It's over."
A rare moment of lightness and laughter
That dead woman's daughter also addressed the court on Friday, flanked by her father and speaking with enormous maturity for her 20 years.
She had refused an invitation to join the party, because she had homework to catch up on and a 12-year-old brother to mind. And she went on minding him, through the news of their mother's death and the months that followed. Until her own collapse into profound depression.
She said that the trial was helping her to come to terms with her own loss, to realise that she was part of a wider community of suffering.
"I cried at other people's stories here today," she said. "I've stopped crying for my mother. We live with that every day."
She told the court that she was now making progress, in the second year of a communications course.
"And what do you want to do in the longer term," the court president, Jean-Louis Périès asked.
"Communicate," was the bright reply.
"Then I can assure you," said the judge to general laughter, "that you will do very well."
Such moments are rare at the Paris special tribunal. But they are welcome.
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