Paris, France – “We are without news from our friend since Friday night. We went to see the lists. She is not on them. She might be among the unidentified victims. We do not know. But the centre took great care of us.”
The two friends, a man and a woman in their 20s who preferred not to give their names, leave quickly, fleeing the TV cameras that approach as they speak.
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We are in front of the emergency psychological support and information centre set up in Ecole Militaire, just in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris. Some of the 132 victims of Friday’s attacks still have not been identified. This is where friends and family come to look for news about those they still haven’t been able to trace. The lists here are updated regularly with the identities of the victims.
It is heavily guarded and every visitor must go through an intense search. Bags are checked, cars are scanned by metal detectors, trunks are scrutinised. The police and military are on high alert. They push the gathered journalists back behind a fence.
A middle-aged woman is leaving the centre. She’s walking with the aid of a crutch and seems to be having difficulties. Red Cross trucks keep coming in and out. A woman passes by on a rented bicycle, a bouquet of flowers in the basket. Republican guards regularly pass through the gate on horseback.
“I came here to see a psychologist,” says Jerome, a Parisian in his 40s. He was at the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Le Bataclan on Friday night. He was with five friends. Two of them are still in the hospital.
“I was just lucky. Because they could not miss me, look at me,” he says, pointing to his belly and laughing.
He keeps describing what he witnessed that night – the sound of people crying, of weapons being reloaded just behind him. They are sounds he thinks he will never forget.
As he speaks, more people go into the centre. Far fewer seem to be coming out.
The Red Cross is dealing with those inside, but they are stretched and calls have gone out requesting for more volunteers to come and assist.
Forty-year-old Soufiane is in the military. He is working at the centre and says he has experience in similar situations elsewhere in the world.
“But it is different here. It is a shock to see people torn apart in France like this. Some people are screaming when they see the lists of victims, others are crying. Some are waiting. And others are just leaving without knowing more,” he says.
“I know the mission,” he says. The volunteers comfort people and provide all the information they can, along with coffee, water, food – those little things that might make moments like this just fractionally easier to handle.
Psychologists have also been called in to help.
One couple is leaving the centre; the woman is a therapist.
“I came to offer my services,” she says. “But there are already enough people. All the relatives are very well taken care of.”
Another couple leaves; the man, in his 30s, seems distraught. He doesn’t want to give his name, but says: “My brother is dead.” He was in Le Bataclan.
He wanted to talk to someone who could help him to understand what happened, he says.
By the side of the building, a group of seven friends are waiting. Paul and Samuel, both 21, know that three of their friends were caught up in the Le Carillon shooting. One of them is still missing.
“Since Friday, we are staying together, with our two friends who left the bar unharmed. We spend all of our time together. We went around to check the hospitals, called all the numbers available to have information,” said Paul. They interrupt their sentences to smoke cigarettes and hug friends.
A few minutes later, the two friends who had been in Le Carillon leave the centre. They seem to be on the verge of crying. They look at their waiting friends and shake their heads. Their friend was not on the list.
Without saying anything else, the whole group leaves.