The terrorist attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris last Friday hit home for some Montgomery County residents in a close way.
Two local residents who were in the French capital for a business conference shared what they experienced in the French capital during the attacks at Stade de France, Le Bataclan Theatre, Le Petit Cambrodge restaurant and Le Carillon bar.
Bethesda resident Delphine Arri and Potomac resident Pablo Cardinale both work at the International Finance Corporation and flew out of Dulles International Airport to Charles DeGaulle last Wednesday, returning Saturday.
While they ate dinner Nov. 13 near the Eiffel Tower, after the last day of their business meeting, the attacks happened at the other side of the city.
Arri is a native Parisian whose children attend The Lycee Rochambeau French International School in Bethesda. Cardinale’s son Mattias is a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, which happens to be hosting a theatrical performance of the French-themed Les Miserables this weekend.
Two of Arri’s best friends still live in Paris, where they attended the Eagles of Death Metal concert hijacked by attackers.
She relayed their story after speaking to one of them Monday.
After hiding behind a chair for about 20 minutes, seeing the gunmen shoot people who moved, they waited for a moment to escape out of an emergency exit. They later caught a cab and returned two days later to pick up their car.
“They said every time somebody would move, they would shoot at them,” said Arri.
During that time, Arri was unaware of the melee, and instead met up with her brother-in-law for drinks.
“At that time, we did not realize what was happening and we were more excited to see each other,” she said.
When she arrived in one portion for the city with “lots of bars and restaurants,” she said she noticed “the bars were closing and they just received an order that something was going on and they had to close.”
Once they finally found an open bar, they heard about the massacres unfolding across the city.
That’s when her brother-in-law drove Arri back to her hotel.
“And on the way back to the hotel, we saw that there were police cars and fire trucks and lots of sirens and alarms,” she said.
People in the street “were rushing; they were walking very fast. You could feel that there was something happening and people were in a state of not panic but rush… people were rushing to go home.”
At that point, the severity of the attacks began to set in for Arri.
She explained she felt nervous and anxious while it was all “very confusing and terrifying.”
Cardinale and Arri both received a barrage of messages to their cell phones and social media accounts from friends and family who wanted to make sure they survived and were safe.
After the attacks, restaurants closed around the city.
“Everything was closed,” said Cardinale, who lodged at The Westin Paris. “I had to stay in the hotel, essentially.”
As a French citizen with an American green card, Arri had an easier experience at the airport than Cardinale did flying back to the United States Saturday morning.
While she said she made it through security in less than an hour before her morning flight, Cardinale arrived at DeGaulle “about six hours ahead of time and I almost missed my flight.”
When Arri landed back in Dulles Saturday, she broke into tears.
“It’s difficult because I think I’m still trying to understand what happened and why this is happening. And all these questions do not have a simple answer,” she said. “I think I was crying for my people because this is very sad… These people are using other people to kill and it’s something that’s beyond our comprehension, beyond our values.”
“It was such a random thing,” surmised Cardinale. “It could have happened at a restaurant like we were at.”