Ramsha Ali was on her way out with friends when she realized she forgot something in her Paris dorm room. When she got back to the room, her roommate told her to stay home; she had just received a call warning terrorists were attacking the city.
At first, the fourth-year business management student — on fall exchange at Paris Dauphine University — didn’t understand the depth of the horrors playing out across the city. Her feelings turned into shock as she huddled around a laptop watching the CBC’s live broadcast. Their phones pinged with phone calls, messages and texts from friends and family back home.
Ali was also thinking of the friends she made during her exchange.
“I know Friday night, a lot of students go out,” Ali said. “I was … hoping that all of my friends and people that I know were doing OK.”
As the world now knows, terrorists detonated explosives outside the Stade de France stadium in Paris and opened fire on crowds at a concert hall and in restaurants. At least 129 people were killed. More than 350 were wounded. The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Ten minutes after Ali’s roommate told her to stay home, her mother called to warn her to stay indoors with her friends and keep watching the news.
“It was kind of like a blessing in disguise,” she said about the forgotten item that sent her back to her room that night. “Had I not remembered that I had to go back to my room, then I would’ve been on my way out.”
Ali’s residence is in the 5th arrondissement, a neighbourhood she describes as a “lively one full of students and joyful families,” and about three kilometres from the soccer stadium where the suicide bombers struck.
From her window that night, she said she saw the city turn into a ghost town.
Ali was the only Ryerson student on exchange in Paris during the attacks. Another student studying northwest of Paris, in Lille, was also confirmed safe by the university, Ryerson spokesman Michael Forbes told The Ryersonian.
A part-time Ryerson journalism instructor in Paris at the time of the attacks is also confirmed safe.
Diana Pereira had been planning her eight days of vacation in Paris for months and bought tickets to see U2. She landed in France on Friday morning.
By 7 p.m., the CityNews digital news editor had settled into her hotel room in the 17th arrondissement — a neighbourhood west of the attacks — and was debating whether to head over to the Eiffel Tower or not, before going back to bed.
At 10:30 p.m., she received multiple calls and a text from a co-worker asking her whether she was OK. From then on, she was glued to Twitter and the news for the latest information.
Pereira said she didn’t have a lot of time to make a decision whether to stay to cover the events or return safely back to Canada. By 9:30 a.m. Saturday, she left the hotel for the airport to board her flight.
“I think the majority of me wanted to stay to cover it, to see the visuals and memorials,” Pereira said. “Another part of me was happy to make sure that everyone knew that I was safe.”
About 25 students from France studying at Ryerson were contacted and told how they could access support and counselling services, Forbes said.
The university said no community members were killed or injured in the attacks.
Former reporter for The Ryersonian and 2010 Ryerson graduate, Carmen Chai, lives in the 11th arrondissement across from the public square, La Place de la République. That’s only a 10-minute walk from where gunmen shot and killed Parisians at the restaurant, Le Petit Cambodge, and where vigils for January’s Charlie Hebdo victims were held.
Chai said the French people came together on the night of the attacks and offered up their homes to strangers stranded in the chaos. The hashtag #PortesOuvertes, which means “open doors,” helped people find each other on Twitter.
“Nobody was leaving their homes at this point, so many … took people in who needed a place to stay, because they didn’t feel safe going home that night,” Chai said. “People fleeing from this place or that place, (others) would say, ‘You can come to my place, don’t worry about it.’
“And I think that is really telling of the French,” she said. “It’s also (how) Canadians would treat other people as well.”
At the vigils set up at the places the terrorists murdered indiscriminately, the Global News reporter saw the messages that people left for the victims.
Mourners left extra batches of candles, papers and pens for others to light and write more messages at the memorial sites.
The country’s motto of “freedom, equality and brotherhood” showed through the written words, Chai said.
Bright messages of “learning to love your brother,” appreciating life, being strong and not being afraid were displayed next to arrangements of flowers and lit candles, she said.
There was no feeling of hatred, “no negativity at all, no blame” or revenge for the horrific events, from the people Chai talked to.
“(They) were more, ‘If you fight war with more war, it’s not going to resolve the situation. It’s going to make things worse.’”
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 18, 2015.