Sunday 18 August 2019

Paris Terror Attacks: 'I was climbing over dead bodies, it looked like a slaughterhouse'

People mourn as they gather at a makeshift memorial near the Bataclan concert hall
People mourn as they gather at a makeshift memorial near the Bataclan concert hall

Victoria Ward and Gordon Rayner

Lying on the floor of the "slaughterhouse" of the Bataclan concert hall, those who were still breathing had two choices: to run for their lives or play dead in the hope that they would escape the gunmen's attention.

Michael O'Connor, one of the Britons who survived the Bataclan massacre in Paris, was among those who held their nerve and stayed put.

Mr O'Connor had not expected to be one of them. He assumed he and his French girlfriend, Sara Badel Craeye, would sooner or later be killed, but after suppressing his instinct to make a run for it, he lay on top of Miss Craeye as they pretended to be dead for an hour and a quarter.

The 30-year-old from South Shields, Tyneside, said that as the Isil terrorists stormed the Eagles of Death Metal concert: "We heard a loud bang and then I heard people screaming behind me.

"Once I half-realised what was going on, my first instinct was to get me and my girlfriend out of there.

"I grabbed my girlfriend and pulled her with me and tried to make it to the exit, but a lot of us all went for it at the same time and there was a bit of a crush, we couldn't all get out.

"There were people falling all over the place, people screaming, people just clawing and running and pushing to get away.

"The attackers, I don't think I heard them saying anything or shouting anything or making any demands, they were just firing indiscriminately into the crowds. Once he had emptied the magazines, everybody got back up and tried to make another dash for the exit, and then he just reloaded and started to fire into us all again."

Mr O'Connor lay on top of his girlfriend, saying he loved her, as she said to him: "This is not how it is going to end, we are not going to die here."

He said: "There was someone on her head and another person was on my legs, it was a real squash.

"I thought, 'If we move we are going to be killed'."

They held the hands of strangers and whispered words of comfort to each other as the shots rang out from the balcony above.

He added: "At one point it sounded like they were firing down from the balcony into the main area where everybody was lying.

As they heard the gunman "fumbling with cartridges" they tried to make another dash for the exit but when the gunfire rang out again, they lay down.

"That was one of the eerier parts," he added. "Just hearing someone methodically reloading his gun so he could start firing at us again. It was terrifying. I just told my girlfriend that I loved her. What else can you do in that situation? I expected to die."

After around 90 minutes, he described how they saw the doors open and police torches offering the first hope. "It was such a relief," he said. "I was ecstatic."

Describing the scene as he walked out, he said: "It looked like an abattoir, it looked like a slaughterhouse. I was wading through blood - it was a centimetre deep in places - and climbing over dead bodies to get out.

"When I got outside it really all hit me what I had seen and experienced, just walking past the people who didn't make it."

Irish Independent

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