Our French sister site Slate.fr published on Tuesday a detailed and harrowing first-person account of what it was like inside the Bataclan when terrorists attacked the Paris concert hall on Friday night, including a chilling description of a face-to-face confrontation with one of the gunmen.
The author, identiffied solely as Benoît W., and his brother survived the attack at the Eagles of Death Metal show by escaping with a group of concertgoers through an emergency exit onto the roof of the theater and then passing through a window to a nearby apartment.
Benoît W. described the scene as the first alarming shots rang out:
Like clicks that come one after another. Like an unending chain of smacks in the cloud of rock.
The sound stops. The smacks continue.
Nobody understands what is happening. People stand up on the balcony.
“It’s in the show. It’s crazy.”
The sound engineer in front of us checks his console and ends up turning on the house lights.
The Kalashnikov shots cover the cries.
The musicians throw down their instruments and flee from the stage.
People climb over one another, trying to get to the emergency exits in the pit, next to the stage.
The bursts of gunfire don’t stop but the rhythm slows down in time with their reloads.
The cries don’t fade out. We hear the sound of footsteps on the floor, then of bodies.
In the balcony, we end up hiding ourselves between rows of seats.
Each time we lift our heads brings about bursts of gunfire.
Benoît and his brother, identified as M., later found themselves face to face with one of the shooters. As Benoît found his way to an emergency exit with the crowd, he turned to see his brother was not behind him:
M. is not there. Crouched down, I stay by the door, holding it open, pushing people inside with as much force as I could, hoping to see my brother appear among them.
He isn’t in the wave.
The gunshots continue with as much intensity as the cries. That is to say, less and less frequent, more and more precise. No one speaks. Only the cries and the bullets pierce the silence.
My eyes look up the corridor a few meters and fall on M., hidden behind a seat, ready to leap. He will tell me then that a shooter less than two meters away, looking down at the pit, was coming dangerously close to him.
My eyes rise a bit more and see the assailant, rifle over his shoulder.
Above and in the back of my brother.
My brother between us.
My breath cuts out. We are going to die here and now.
The assailant says: “It’s going to be OK, don’t worry.”
Surreal thing, the terrorist, without taking aim at me, signals to me to close the door to the emergency exit that I find myself in front of, without knowing whether he is going to let me leave or not.
I stand up in the doorway and beg the attacker to let my brother and the person next to him through.
The two final people to enter the hallway, who don’t see this man behind them, crawl, jump, make their way [to the door].
Letting them all pass in, [the shooter] signaled to me to close the door.
The gunshots continue. I close the door behind my brother and me as fast as I can.
Surviving that terrifying moment, Benoît, his brother, and the rest of the group were able to climb out onto the roof of the theater. From there, they passed through the window of a nearby apartment, where they hid with others behind a fireplace, fearing the shooters would follow. While there, the survivors sent text messages to friends and family to tell them they loved them and received updates on the ongoing hostage situation inside the Bataclan, just a few floors down.
Benoît tried to maintain his sense of humor even in such a fraught moment: When the woman next to him asked if he had a cellphone charger, he gave her his coat check ticket. “She didn’t laugh,” Benoît recalls.
After hiding there for nearly three hours, they eventually heard the final raid on the concert hall and were freed:
Then, like the grand finale of a fireworks show, it bursts from all over. The walls tremble, howling. The gunshots. Spaced out, but rhythmic. Precise. Explosions. We hope that it’s the intervention that we were waiting for hours for. Then nothing.
After several very long minutes, we hear footsteps on the stairs. The Raid. On high alert, [the owner of the apartment they were hiding in] fears that we could also be taken hostage. He questions through the door the first interlocutors. “Civilians.”
We are civilians. Without entering, they ask us to kneel down, hands on our heads. They ask how many we are. If there are any wounded.
For those who read French, the entire story is worth the time.