Around 9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, Sarah Peck was enjoying a night out at a bar with some friends near the Opéra Garnier in Paris, when two explosions erupted about 8.5 km away, by the Stade de France stadium where a Germany-France soccer game was taking place.
Minutes later, gunmen opened fire on diners in Rue Bichat — just a 10-minute drive from Peck — in a barrage of seven terror attacks across the city.
In all, 129 people were killed and more than 300 others injured.
“We didn’t actually find out what had happened until possibly an hour after, due to lack of cell reception,” the 23-year-old Brookswood Secondary graduate said in an email to The Times.
“One of my friends had stepped outside to make a call and came back in with the news — we would have to leave immediately.”
Peck has been living in Paris for just over two months, working as an au pair in the 7th arrondissement to perfect her French before starting her masters in conference interpretation. She graduated from UBC this past spring with an honours in French.
After Peck’s friend found out about the attacks, the group attempted to make their way home, in a city filled with panic.
“We were trying to think of the best way to get home, while avoiding popular areas,” Peck said.
“To get home I would either have to cross the Louvre, Place de la Concorde or the Champs-Elysées, all of which are areas that receive a lot of traffic. Since all metros that go by my apartment shut down and getting a taxi was impossible, we thought we were going to have to walk.
“Luckily, we found some people getting out of an Uber and we took that home. It is hard to say how long it took, exactly. I don’t think I looked at the time once, but maybe an hour in total because we stopped to see if hotels had space when we passed them on foot.”
Just after 1 a.m. (4:03 p.m. Vancouver time), Peck marked herself “safe during Paris Terror Attacks” on her Facebook page and in a bilingual status wrote, “hey everyone, thanks for the messages. I just arrived home and am safe in Paris.”
Several friends and family commented on the status, one simply saying, “thank god.”
“As the story developed I received a ton of messages from my caring friends and family trying to figure out if I was safe,” Peck said. “As far as my Paris friends, everyone was just baffled I suppose.
“It is difficult to have completely coherent feelings following such an event.
“The most baffling was just that anyone could have been at any of these places. I knew people watching the soccer game from home, people who were spending their Friday night near the Bataclan, (a theatre where 89 concert goers were killed) etc.”
The next day, thousands of Parisians gathered at the sites of the attacks to mourn those who were killed, and monuments around the world lit up in blue, white and red to show support for France.
“Life continues on in Paris. The very next day I went grocery shopping at various shops and there were lots of people out and about and in a cheerful mood,” Peck said.
“People are refusing to change the way they live.
“Many are paying their respects by leaving candles and flowers in the affected areas.”
Although shaken by her close brush with terrorism, Peck is thankful she and her friends are safe.
“While I ache that a place I deeply care about was under attack, Paris vivra — Paris lives on,” Peck said.
“This could have happened anywhere, so it is important to tell the special people in your life that you care about them. You just never know.”