Many of them claim that they were animals. Prey who had lost their sense of time. Targets that were not human to their hunter or to themselves.
Over two weeks, hundreds of Parisian survivors from the Bataclan concert venue have been testifying in a courtroom specially designed to discuss the Islamic State group’s attack on November 13, 2015. They are just steps from 14 men who were charged in the bloodshed, the most horrific in modern France.
This testimony is the first time survivors have described – and learned – what happened at the Bataclan that night. They are filling in the puzzle pieces as they speak. It is the first time they have spoken out about a night that they described day in and day out, using hauntingly similar words.
130 people were killed that night at France’s national stadium, the Bataclan and in nearby restaurants and bars. In the three-hour attack, hundreds more were left with injuries to their bodies and souls, with 90 of these at the Bataclan.
Witness after witness is seen trembling with a laser pointer, and faces a screen in court with the Bataclan floorplan. This floorplan was given to police by the technical director when they arrived to locate the windows and doors. The light’s shaking pinpoints where they were at the time of the attack and where they ended up.
Some survivors remained in the concert hall only for a few minutes after shooting began before running outside and escaping into the streets. Others remained for hours beneath the bodies of the victims on the dance floor and were stuffed into a closet with a broom and a doorknob. They prayed silently that the three men who were determined to kill them wouldn’t find them.
All nine attackers were killed that night and in the days that followed. One survivor from the IS cell, the only one who survived after his suicide vest failed, is being tried. Others are charged with transport or logistics support.
The legendary concert hall in central Paris was packed with people on the night of November 13, 2015. It was hot and humid, and the temperatures rose in the dance hall as the second set began to swing into action.
Clarisse was 24 years old when she was seen in the coatroom along with a friend getting ready to head out to the nearby convenience store to get beers in the time-honored scheme of the young and the broke. The shooting began at 9:47 p.m. and ended at the entrance. There was only one direction: back inside, into the dance hall.
The gunmen were close behind.
Clarisse declares, “And I’m ready.” “I expect to be shot in the back. It will hurt, I think. Do I loose consciousness? Die immediately?”
Edith was standing at the bar, near the steps that lead down to the pit. Like nearly all other survivors, Edith told the judge that she did not want her last name publicized.
As her shaking hands point towards a stairwell, the laser dot swings wild on the screen. She describes the instinct as “something animal, almost reptilian” and dives under a folding chair. She was surrounded by a giant man, who breathed as calmly as their panicked bodies would permit.
Initial firing was in slow bursts.
“Then, one at a moment it starts. A cry. A shot. A phone ringing. A shot. A plead. One shot. Edith says there is no escape. Her hands twist as she removes rings from her fingers and replaces them with one after another.
Jerome was with six of his friends at the concert and was located just below the sound console. During what he called the “calm cleanup,” they were trapped and laying on the ground.
As he shot at Jerome’s friend, he heard his steady breathing. Then there was a pause. They ran out of bullets.
“As soon they stopped to reload the computer, there was no sound. Jerome describes it as “being in a cathedral” with absolute silence. The smell of blood and powder rose by then, an odor that was etched in the minds of all those who had made it out that night.
Thibault was standing near the stage with his wife. Thibault looked behind him to see one of the gunmen. He says, “His face is covered and I understand that the gunman won’t flee.” “He’s going with the police to end it. It’s at that moment I realize that I’m going mad.
His cold comfort: “At the very least, I’m going to not leave an orphan.”
The floor was now wet from blood, five minutes after the gunmen entered the Bataclan. People surged towards the stage as the gunmen appeared to disappear.
Clarisse was one of many who took a back staircase as high as possible. They found themselves in a darkened room with a corner toilet. Standing on the toilet, she smashed through the ceiling and created a mess of fiberglass and electric wires.
Thibault and Anne-Laure, his wife, joined the crowd, but then lost sight of one another running upstairs. The pipes burst and water began to flood the room. People continued to climb on the toilet, and eventually reached the crawlspace to find someone else.
Anne-Laure did not. Anne-Laure testified that she fled to a hiding place like an animal. I was so mad at myself for that afterwards.
Thibault found Thibault’s wife encased in fiberglass and wrapped her around to wait. “It’s going down this way. Either the terrorists or the police will find us, but I’ll still be there with my wife.”
There were still many dead and wounded in the pit. Pierre-Sylvain, his girlfriend and several others were found in the middle. He felt a flash of light at the first shot of gunfire, and knew he was being hit.
The attackers went upstairs and shook everyone on the ground. None of them moved. He lifted his girlfriend, who appeared to be in a state of shock, and looked around.
He saw the blinding lights of the stage spots in every direction. The horror began.
“The whole pit was covered with bodies and it was impossible to distinguish between the living and the dead. “I was in a concert hall, but what I had was a mass grave in front of my eyes was a mass grave.” He stepped on the bodies to get out.
Pierre-Sylvain only realized that he had been shot in the face. The bullet entered his eye below. The bullet splintered under his eye. His girlfriend was also hit in the head. Both survived. They’ve had more than 20 operations between them.
“I was unable to understand why I kept conscious.” Later, I was told that the body releases endorphins to reduce pain and adrenaline to escape.” He tells the judge, with his face blank.
Sandrine, who was right next to the stage, fell to the ground at mass exit. Sandrine was crushed and blacked out by the tramplers.
She regained consciousness and pushed herself up unassisted when the floor gave in. “It wasn’t the floor that I was pushing on, it was bodies, lifeless bodies.”
As she left the building, her feet touched the ground so much that she can’t remember where they were. She felt something in her foot and reached for it, hoping that it was the necklace that had been lost in all the chaos. “But it’s no necklace, it is a bullet.”
Amandine, whose arm and leg were broken, waited even longer, hoping for unconsciousness. At 9:56 p.m. she was already on the ground, and the officers had arrived with only handguns.
Just before the hostage was executed on stage, one of them struck an attacker. His suicide vest detonated.
“Pieces and flesh fell on my were that of our tormentor’s, feathers, I think, from his jacket,” the officers asked. She couldn’t walk. “And so I remained, along with the gravely wounded and the dead.
After two hours, an officer finally dragged her by her arm. After two hours, an officer dragged her out by her good arm.
Edith was found under a balcony chair and was evacuated at 11:30 p.m. A police officer led them down the stairs, past the pit, the bar, and told them to look away. It was impossible to not.
She tries to stop her hands shaking from the sheer volume of bodies that were dancing two hours ago. It’s narrow, and we try to walk around them, but it’s not always possible. All who have seen it, can understand.
The two remaining attackers took 11 people and placed them in a narrow corridor upstairs. One gunman opened a window to the alley below. He exclaimed, “Got him!”
They placed a hostage at the balcony’s door and ordered him to describe the pain of the victims. Another prisoner stood guard at the windows.
The hostage’s phone was used by the gunmen to start negotiations with police. The doorway began to collapse suddenly. Between the heads of two hostages, a gunshot whistled.
A huge, black, 200-pound, 90-kg (200-pound) shield that was impervious to Kalashnikov shots rolled through the entrance. It was pushed by police as large as the door. The shield fell on a female hostage as it teetered along the steps. The room was filled with gunpowder, dust and two concussion-grenades.
One attacker emptied his clip and the other blow himself up in the back staircase. The whole building shaken. Both attackers had been killed. All 11 hostages were still alive and stunned. No one was hit by a bullet. It was 12:18 AM.
The former captives were taken one by one through the pit below. David wondered anguishfully as they passed through the bodies. Sebastien thought the same thing as David, and he testified in the same flannel shirt that he wore that night.
“I have changed my job. I have changed my life. My girlfriend changed without me wanting to. He says that my new companion is herself a survivor.”
Police took over an hour to locate the survivors, who were hiding in closets and on the roof. The last ones to emerge were those in the ceiling.
Clarisse is asked by the judge if she realizes that she saved many lives that night.
“So that’s what I was told. It’s something I don’t even realize. It was impossible for me to die without doing all I could to escape.”
She discovered that getting out was only the beginning. She then turns to the defendants.
“You took from me the joy of carefree evenings and the pleasure that comes with walking down the street in peace without worrying, the pleasure at going to the movies, and the feeling of being relaxed and free of anxiety.
Thibault, who credits Thibault with saving his life, says he felt like he was returning to his humanity after he left the building. He adds that he feels a lot of guilt. Why did I survive when others didn’t?
His wife and he have not been able to have children. She is a small woman with a pixie cut that frames her fragile cheekbones. She apologizes, saying that others have suffered worse.
Edith claims that Edith’s testimony is almost unlegitimate because she left the Bataclan alive, and in no way was hurt. Edith was a shell of her former self that night. One of her many tattoos, which adorn her limbs, is the Bataclan on her left forearm.
She says, “We are still trapped at Nov. 13.”
Pierre-Sylvain is optimistic that the trial will bring relief to his face, which will remain permanently scarred.
He says, “That this is occurring in a sacred space allows victims to talk.” It can help ease the burden for each of us. … This was seen by many as the end. It is a beginning for me.”