UWF students less than mile away from Bataclan on night of Paris terrorist attacks

Paris pic

Tommy To, UWF senior marketing major, poses with French policemen the day after terror attacks take place in Paris.
Photo courtesy of https://tommytto.wordpress.com/.

Cassie Rhame

Staff Writer

This past Friday, Nov. 13, marked a historically tragic day as Paris came under attack by ISIS, leaving visiting UWF students Tommy To and Carly Currier in a panic.

To, a global marketing senior, and Currier, a telecommunications and film junior, are currently studying abroad at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, England. The university has an “Enhancement Week” that allows students to take a week off from classes, which brought the pair to Paris the night of the attacks.

To and Currier decided to devote half of their week visiting the City of Light, unaware that they would be interrupted by a night of terror.

“I was in the middle of what could potentially be the start of a major war against ISIS,” To said in an interview over email.

The two students shared an eventful day visiting the Eiffel Tower, and To said his first instinct upon arriving back at the flat that night was to upload pictures to social media. “All that had to be done was to turn on the Wi-Fi, and that’s when my night in Paris made a dramatic twist,” To said.

Family and friends had messaged him frantically asking if he was safe, to which To said he thought, “Why would I not be safe?”

“We had no idea what was happening,” Currier quoted from her blog in an email interview. “In a matter of moments, my feelings of rest and relaxation vanished.”

To turned to the BBC news website and watched as it continuously updated and broke stories about a bombing at Stade de France, where France was playing Germany in a soccer match. When he first heard the news, To described his feeling as confused and dreamlike.

“We just looked at each other and couldn’t believe this was happening,” To said.

“The one weekend, possibly in my whole life, that I go to Paris, this happens,” Currier said.

The stadium was a good distance away from where To and Currier were staying.

But then came reports of shootings, and a hostage situation at the Bataclan Music Hall – less than a mile away from To and Currier’s flat.

“Less than one mile away… Was the next event going to be where we were?” To said. “What’s next on the minds of these terrorists?

“Everything felt so real, yet so surreal at the same time,” To said. “As a child, I grew up with the attack of the Twin Towers on 9/11 and remember that day vividly. I was a 7-year-old kid… I didn’t understand war. I realized that these attacks in Paris were clear signs of terrorism.”

Both students said they thought the possibility of an attack on the house they were staying in was slim, but still spent their night in fear.

“I kept thinking, what if we didn’t come back at the time we did,” To said. “What if we took this route home instead of the one we did? When I was sitting on the couch, I truly thought that my life could possibly be nearing its end.”

To said they listened to the sound of sirens for several hours, but never heard any gunfire. He and Currier were up most of the night responding to those worried about their safety.

“It’s hard to put into words what I was feeling. It’s all God’s grace, but I didn’t fear for my life. I wasn’t afraid. I was extremely tense, very nervous, and really unsettled. As I rapidly texted, I could feel my hands shake and my legs would twitch. Sitting still was impossible. I was running on pure adrenaline,” Currier said.

To said in his email interview that he felt sorry for his parents even more than himself on that night. He said they had been trying to get ahold of him for hours, and were unable to reach him.

“They were helpless, what could they do to get me out, to make sure I was safe,” To said.

“The reports continued. The death count grew,” Currier said.

The city’s residents were advised to remain at home the next day, so the pair did not get to see as much of the city as they had wanted.

The streets, described as having an “eerie silence,” were mostly filled with police, “and all of them were very openly carrying big automatic weapons,” Currier said.

Doug Mackaman, founder and president of GlobalizEDU, said in an email interview that the program has safety protocols in place for their students studying in France.

“Every single statistic on violent crime that one can name shows France to be an overall safer place for our students to live than at home in the USA,” Mackaman said.

Mackaman said he feels students respond well to “The Village,” the semester-long program in Pontlevoy, France, because it is located in a “tranquil and charming village two hours away from Paris.”

“We keep our students safe in two very specific ways,” Mackaman said. “Our program has an emergency protocol for a geo-political disturbance, which is very simple. Whomever is at “The Village,” is to remain there until the crisis settles to the point where locals have begun to return to their normal routines,” Mackaman said.

“Long before the sun had risen on the morning after the Paris events, every one of our students had heard from our program staff at The Village,” Mackaman said. “By 8 a.m. that morning, our emergency protocol was posted to our program Facebook page…No more than an hour after that, we had deployed a return travel plan for students who were as far away as London, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.”

The weekend following the attacks was meant to be spent enjoying the beaches of Normandy, but the excursion was cancelled by a unanimous vote from staff, even though Mackaman said no one felt there was any real risk in taking the trip.

“An ugly meeting indeed … but we were staying home and sparing ourselves any possible risk, and our families back at home any extra worry,” Mackaman said.

To read more about the “The Village” or its geo-political disturbance protocol, visit their Facebook page here.
For an extended version of To and Currier’s stories of that night, here are the links to their blogs:
Tommy To: A Weekend I Will Never Forget
Carly Currier: Vive La France