Students in Paris safe after attacks stun city
On Friday evening, terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State attacked Paris, France, launching a coordinated attack on four different locations in central Paris and causing the deaths of 129 people, according to a Nov. 15 New York Times article. The Brandeis University Facebook page wrote on Saturday, “We have been in touch with our students studying in France, we have confirmed that all are safe, and we will continue to monitor the events. Our thoughts are with people of Paris and everyone affected.”
The article stated that 19 people died at La Belle Equipe in the Rue de Charonne, a cafe that was targeted in the attacks. Leslie Kamel ’16, an Undergraduate Departmental Representative for French and Francophone Studies and a Health: Science, Society and Policy Program double major currently enrolled in her second semester of study abroad in the French capital, currently lives about .8 kilometers from that site. Kamel also lives very close to a hospital and witnessed flashing ambulances shuttling victims of the attack back and forth until 3 a.m.
“It is incredibly tragic that this happened,” Kamel said in an interview with the Justice held via video chat, adding, “It [violent attacks] can happen, these things happen. I don’t think it diminishes the beauty or the elegance of this city. I think it is something that has happened, and it will become a part of its history.”
Kamel had been on her way to meet friends in the Fifth Arrondissement in Place Monge when she received a message from a student in her Boston University study abroad program on Facebook. “Someone sent me a message saying, ‘You need to turn on your news and look at what’s going on.’ And I, of course, had no idea, ’cause it was just a regular Friday night — Friday night is very busy — people are out in the streets or at bars,” she said.
Kamel immediately called her host mother to confirm that she was safe but did not check the news. She instead asked her host mother to explain briefly what was happening.
According to Kamel, her host mother said, “‘Leslie, there’s been an attack, we’re okay, our house is safe, please come home.’ So I said ‘Okay, I’m coming home.’” Kamel then called her parents to reassure them of her safety but continued not to check the news until at home, in order to stay calm.
Kamel walked from Place Monge to the 12th Arrondissement in the Northeast. She walked, as opposed to taking the trains, because she deemed it the safer choice if the city was experiencing an attack.
“At night it’s perfectly safe and it’s well-lit, there were people on the street, and there wasn’t a sense of panic,” she said. “No one was freaking out, but you could hear sirens. I heard sirens — in Paris there’s a different sound for the police sirens and the ambulances, and they’re just different. So I could hear both of them.”
According to Kamel, friends and family began instantly contacting her to make sure that she was safe. “I think I had at least 40 Brandeis friends message me in the course of an hour,” Kamel said.
“At certain points, it felt like Brandeis or the US knew more about what was happening than we did,” Kamel said.
“Because I think the US media was predicting things, saying things, more than the French news was saying. I think ’cause it was happening here, everyone was trying to stay calm. At a certain point, I remember the US media was saying a hundred deaths, and here in France, we were saying 30, and I didn’t really know.” When she finally began reading the news at home, Kamel described the experience as “surreal.”
Despite the chaos the previous night, Kamel found the streets surprisingly calm — if emptier than usual — on her Saturday routine, which included buying groceries, though she spent most of the day indoors with her host family.
She told the Justice that on Saturday, she “saw about three military transport trucks that were carrying about 20 to 30 military personnel in each truck,” she said. “And I think they were part of the reinforcements that [French President] François Hollande called up.”
Another Brandeis student, Tara Gordon ’16, was at Chabad, a Jewish organization that hosts weekly Shabbat dinners among other activities, when she heard of the attacks. “I had my phone off during dinner, and when I heard the news, I turned it on to find dozens of messages from friends and family,” she said in an email to the Justice.
She started walking home with friends before her host father picked her up and spent the next day indoors.
Two Brandeis students who were visiting Gordon at the time and who are also studying abroad in Europe were able to book earlier flights and fly to their respective countries; despite increased border and street security, air travel in and out of the country has remained unaffected.
In the aftermath of the fatalities, French President François Hollande issued a state of emergency and authorities are currently on a manhunt for possible suspects, although some have already been apprehended in Belgium.
Addressing Parliament, Hollande called the violence induced by the militants “an act of war.”
The New York Times described the Paris attacks as the “worst terrorist attack in Europe in 11 years,” in terms of number of injuries and fatalities in a Nov. 14 article.
Responses from the international community have been robust, with nearly all major international cities commemorating the tragedy by lighting their major landmarks in the colors of the French flag, among other forms of tribute.
The Brandeis community responded by holding a vigil at 6 p.m. on the Great Lawn on Monday. Approximately 50 students were in attendance, and the vigil featured the recitation of songs and Biblical verses.
The vigil was hosted by the Brandeis French and Francophone Club and the French Business and Lifestyle Club.
—Max Moran contributed reporting.
An earlier version of this article misspelled Leslie Kamel's name as "Leslie Camel."