Axelle Dumas spent an hour wandering the streets of Paris following the deadly terror attacks Friday.
The 20-year-old student and Paris native lives on Rue de la Fontaine au Roi, just a few doors from where police engaged in gunfire with attackers earlier in the evening.
“I thought I could help people,” Dumas said in an interview over Skype. “I couldn’t stay at home knowing that some people are being murdered on my own street.”
Dumas said she heard people talking with friends and families on their phones, others shouting in panic.
Last Friday, synchronized attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers at the Stade de France and other locations across the city left at least 129 people dead and 352 injured. The mayhem started around 9 p.m. when bombs exploded at two restaurants beside the stadium; moments later, subsequent attacks occurred at locations in the 10th and 11th districts.
Dumas was on the phone with her older sister when she heard what sounded like firecrackers outside her window. Curious, she searched online and learned what she had heard was gunfire. There had been an attack on Boulevard Voltaire, a 10-minute walk from her apartment.
On the phone with her sister, Dumas was warned by her family not to leave the house. Five minutes later, Dumas hung up and left to go see what was happening.
“I don’t know why I behaved like that,” said Dumas, shaking her head. “I couldn’t stay at home knowing that some people are being murdered on my own street.”
Shortly after, Dumas received a message from her neighbour saying their street was on the news. She turned around and headed home. When she arrived, the street was blocked.
“When I got close I saw people running away like crazy,” Dumas said, adding that emergency services were on the scene.
“The terrorists were very quick,” said Dumas, noting how anxious the police were, shouting at people to move away. “A policeman told me to go back and hide.”
Among the locations where the attackers opened fire was Casa Nostra, a restaurant that Dumas passes daily on her way home. It’s usually a busy, cheerful place she said, adding that “it’s unbelievable” people died in a place where there is happiness.
I don’t want to give [terrorists] the opportunity to have power over us.
On Saturday, Dumas said her district was quiet. Where it’s normally “very crowded” around the clock, the streets were empty.
“It was like a dead district,” said Dumas.
That afternoon, Dumas visited the Bataclan, the concert hall where at least 100 event-goers died. Bullet holes riddled the side of a restaurant just outside the concert hall, and brown sand covered bloodstains on the ground, spilt from the previous night.
People were outside debating the origin of the gunmen.
“It’s not a good attitude in this circumstance,” said Dumas, who says tensions between religious groups are increasing in France. “We should all work together.”
Dumas said the people of France must fight back with words and attitudes.
“I don’t want to give [terrorists] the opportunity to have power over us.”
On Sunday, Parisians fled a vigil at Place de la Republique Square after hearing what sounded like gunfire coming from the area. This time, it turned out to be firecrackers, but with Paris on edge, everyone is wary.
Dumas attended a vigil on Sunday, outside Casa Nostra where at least five people were murdered. The ground was strewn with candles, notes and flowers as Parisians commemorated those who lost their lives in what world leaders are calling senseless acts of terror.
On Monday, Dumas said the streets are still very calm where she lives. Parisians are being told by police to stay away from crowded areas, but Dumas didn’t listen to that warning on Friday and won’t heed it now.
“You can’t stop [me] from living,” she said. “We are lucky to be alive and should take advantage of the days in front of us.”