A London High School graduate was in Paris as coordinated attackers armed with machine guns and explosives killed at least 120 people Friday night at six different locations within the city.
It was 22-year-old Victoria Nowarah’s last night in Paris, the end of a six-day stay in the city as part of a three-week backpacking trip through Europe.
Nowarah and her backpacking cohort were preparing to leave their hostel and head out to a bar when she received text messages from her mother and sister simultaneously, asking if she was OK.
“That’s when I found out,” she told The Madison Press Monday via text message from Amsterdam.
They went to the hostel bar to watch the news, but the reports were all in French, so Nowarah asked her family to send her links to English news articles.
“I finally put two and two together, why I was hearing so many sirens,” she said.
Security guards at the hostel asked the tourists to stay inside the building.
“We were all trying not to think about it and not let it spoil our night, but you could tell everyone was glued to their phones, telling friends and family they were OK,” she said.
Nowarah spoke to several hostel employees throughout the night. A bartender’s girlfriend was in the Bataclan concert hall, the deadliest of the six target areas which included the national La Stade de France stadium and a few popular restaurants and night spots.
At the concert hall, attackers sprayed cafes with gunfire, then held concert-goers hostage before detonating explosive belts. They killed at least 100 people inside the hall, according to reports.
Another employee was searching for a missing friend, she relayed.
“It made me sick to my stomach,” Nowarah said.
During her stay in Paris, the streets had been packed with people, to the point that it was nearly impossible not to bump into someone, she said.
But Saturday morning, as she walked to the bus station, the streets were quiet, empty in comparison to the bustle of the day before.
Police officers boarded her bus to check passports as she crossed the border on her way to Amsterdam.
“My heart breaks for Paris,” Nowarah said. “I hope to visit again in the future.”
On Monday, the terrorist attack in Paris was much discussed in Madison County classrooms.
Jonathan Alder High School French teacher John Glatz shared slide shows with his students with highlights of weekend news coverage, including speeches from the French and U.S. presidents, a map of the targets and death counts, and photos of national landmarks across the world that used red, white and blue lights to show solidarity with France.
The slide show also noted similarities between the Paris attacks and 9/11, and highlighted a second terrorist attack in Beirut that killed 40 people over the weekend.
“They came in knowing pieces,” Glatz said. “I felt, as a French teacher, I had to at least inform them.”
Glatz takes interested students to France once every four years. The trip includes a home-stay for each student with a French family living near Paris.
The next tour is slated for this summer. Ten individuals are signed up. Glatz does not expect the trip to be canceled.
This year marks Glatz’s 30th teaching French. He reached out to two close friends in France via Facebook over the weekend.
“They’re very, very touched by the support,” from the lit up landmarks to the Facebook function that allows individuals to impose the colors of the French flag over their profile pictures, he said.
Intelligence officials suspect Islamic State was behind the attacks.
In the aftermath, many friends and families used social media to find loved ones.
The attacks comprise the deadliest violence Paris has seen since World War II.
Nowarah is the daughter of Tara Renner, an employee of The Madison Press.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Audrey Ingram at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or on Twitter @Audrey.MP
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