News outlets and social media platforms directed the world’s attention to Paris on Friday, Nov. 13, as terrorists opened fire and detonated suicide bombs in six public places, including restaurants, a stadium and a concert hall. About 129 people lost their lives in the ISIS-led attacks.
“Tragic, senseless violence recognizes no borders, and takes innocent victims without regard for distinctions such as race, gender, or religion,” said Imam Mohammed Mehtar of the Khadeeja Mosque in Salt Lake City in a press release from the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable. “As Muslims, it is with dread and despair that we see people who align themselves to us in faith commit such acts of soul-crushing violence.”
Friday’s events hit especially close to home for French students and faculty at BYU, as well as students who served their missions or studied abroad in Paris.
BYU student Lorraine Bailey grew up in Saint-Malo, France. Her friend Marceau Gesloin, 22, was in Paris on Friday night and taking the Paris express train at the time of the attacks. He got off the train near the Stade de France without hearing or seeing anything unusual.
Gesloin’s friends and family were sending him texts to ask about his safety, but he didn’t understand why he was receiving those messages until he got home and turned on the TV.
“When I realized what was happening, I was shocked and petrified,” Gesloin said. “The next day, I was too scared to go anywhere outside or to take the subway.”
Gesloin’s friend Manel Mehagni, another Parisian, had to go out Saturday afternoon to run some errands. She said the streets were empty and the police searched her bag on her way in and out of a grocery store.
Mehagni said the atmosphere was still very somber when she got to work on Monday morning.
“There was a heavy feeling in the air,” Mehagni said. “People usually gather in the open space to chill on the couch or play pingpong, but nobody was there and there wasn’t any laughter.”
The attacks also affected BYU faculty members like French professor Elodie Petelo, who was born and raised in France.
She said her husband called on Friday afternoon to let her know their family members in Paris were safe. He was the first person to let her know that there had been terrorist attacks in the French capital.
“My initial reaction was shock,” Petelo said. “These people were just at a restaurant, at a concert on a beautiful fall night. They were just at a soccer game. I think their lives have changed forever.”
Petelo said many of her friends and family members have wondered why the attacks are getting so much attention when bad things happen in the world every day. She said she thinks it’s because of the city itself.
“They attacked on everything that makes Paris, Paris, like sitting out at a table at a restaurant, being at a concert, being at a soccer game,” Petelo said. “I think that’s why it created such international interest.”
Petelo said while BYU students can’t do much for the French right away, they can help by being examples of good in the world.
“I think the only thing we can do is to just be an influence for good where we are,” Petelo said. “I think being tolerant and a force for good is one way that we can help not only Paris, but the world in general.”
BYU student Miranda Mason served in the France Paris mission and returned home in March. She heard about the attacks when she received a text message from her aunt.
Mason said Friday’s events reminded her of what she experienced just after the Charlie Hebdo attack. Mason was serving in a ward in central Paris at the time.
“This brought back a lot of memories of walking down the streets with military personnel everywhere, and the fear that went along with it,” Mason said. “The French people were just afraid, and they weren’t sure what was going on.”
Mason said she spent hours on Friday checking the news and Facebook for updates. She said she was grateful for the social media platforms that made it easy to get in touch with the people she got to know on her mission.
“I was just filled with heartache for those people and that place that I loved,” Mason said.
Many BYU students honored the victims by superimposing a French flag over their Facebook profile pictures and by observing a moment of silence at the BYU v. UVU basketball game, but BYU senior Andrew Justvig said he wanted to do more. He led a prayer walk from the BYU campus to the Provo Temple Sunday night, and he said more than 50 people came to show their support.
“People carried the French flag, and we sang hymns up to the temple. We said a prayer,” Justvig said. “It was amazing.”
Across Utah, American flags and the state flag will remain at half staff until after sunset on Thursday, Nov. 19.
Contributing: Lorraine Bailey