Full-time student and traveler Kelsey Martin spent Friday morning and afternoon roaming the streets in Paris, unaware of the events that would transpire several hours later.
Martin, a 19-year-old nursing major from Selmer, Tennessee, has been studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain, for more than two months. Knowing her time overseas is limited, she decided to spend a weekend in one of her dream cities, Paris, France, with her friend Edlyn Ruiz. The two students arrived Thursday night and planned to spend the next two days touring the city before flying to London Sunday morning.
On Friday morning, Kelsey and Edlyn grabbed breakfast offered by their hostel and left to go hiking at a nearby park. Vibrant yellow leaves garnished the grassy area near the walkways between trees, ducks and geese wandered about the park’s small creeks and ponds, and, despite the overcast weather, Martin says the city looked like a dream, just as she imagined it to be.
After exploring the park, Kelsey and Edlyn began their trek to the Eiffel Tower. They walked among the throng of other tourists who roamed freely throughout the streets, soaking in the sights and sounds of the city. Before arriving at the tower, they
stopped at a local market for crepes and sack lunches.
“Walking up to the tower was unreal,” Martin said. “I remember thinking I could not believe I was actually in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower.”
They had a picnic in a patch of sunlight on the lawn and watched tourists pose for photos near the tower. They snapped a few of their own, Martin said, before visiting Musée du Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums and home to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
“We wandered about aimlessly in the museum, surrounded by historical statues and famous paintings, without any idea we too would be apart of a horrific event in France’s history,” Martin said.
The two friends eventually parted ways, and Kelsey, confident in her way back to the hostel, was eager to check her messages and finish a paper due a few days later. When she arrived at the hostel, the lobby was full of people chatting about their evening plans. Kelsey ran into her hostel mates upon arriving to her room, and although she wished to enjoy a Friday night with her friends, she said she chose to work on homework instead.
“They (hostel mates) were talking about the bars they were hoping to go to and how they were excited to go clubbing,” Martin said. “I remember feeling upset because I was unable to go out. This changed as I received the first of many urgent messages.”
“ARE YOU OKAY?” read a Snapchat from a concerned cousin.
“I immediately thought, ‘yes, I am okay. I am in Paris, I am more than okay,'” Kelsey said.
After a few exchanges with her cousin, Kelsey learned of the attacks in Paris that left at least 120 people dead and hundreds more injured.
“She soon responded that there had been attacks in Paris and everything went downhill from there,” she said. “I began to receive messages upon messages of people asking ‘Where are you?’ ‘Are you okay?’ and ‘Are you safe?’.”
Not fully aware of the details, Kelsey said it wasn’t until her friends in Sevilla sent her a link with more information that she began to understand the severity of what transpired.
“Headlines read, ‘40 people projected dead,’ ‘Terror in Paris,’ I was horrified as I continued to read each article,” she said. “At this point, the news was still receiving new information from the scenes, and my worry increased with every new update.”
Kelsey said she immediately tried to contact Edlyn to see her whereabouts, mentally preparing herself to not hear back and have to track down her location. She recalls pulling up map after map trying to find the locations of the incidents and where Edlyn said she would be.
At this point, messages were flooding in from worried friends and distressed relatives asking about her safety. Although she was in her room and away from where the attacks were taking place, Kelsey said she still felt uneasy.
“I remember feeling I was not safe, and I was not okay,” she said. “After 15 long minutes I finally received the text I was waiting for.”
Edlyn messaged Kelsey via Facebook to let her know she was on her way back to the hostel and to not worry. While waiting for her friend to arrive, Kelsey began reading further into the incident, continuously updating news feeds to see the latest news. By that point, the death toll was rising from 40 to 60, then from 60 to 80 and counting.
“I was reading further into this story when Edlyn walked into our room,” she said. “We embraced in a hug, both of us were close to tears, and I remember thinking I could not imagine returning to Spain without her.
Kelsey said the two spoke briefly about the events while responding to family and friends. Martin, who had been inside since the attacks occurred, said Edlyn described her ride back to the hostel as quiet, yet frightening.
“You could tell everyone was suspicious of each other,” Kelsey recalled Edlyn telling her upon arriving to the hostel. “No one looked at one another, only through quick glances and then their gaze returned to the floor.”
After assuring her family she was OK, Kelsey retreated from her room to the lobby to call her boyfriend, Jordan, and look up more information. When she entered the lobby, Kelsey said she was met with a rush of “saddening and cold” air. People were talking to each other quietly while huddled in corners, and a man spoke of his flight concerns to the receptionist. France declared a state of emergency, and, since the borders were closed, no one was allowed to enter the country, and no one was allowed to leave.
While downstairs, Kelsey spoke with her boyfriend, who suggested she have a game plan if someone were to enter the hotel and begin shooting. But at that point, she said she didn’t have one.
Kelsey remained in the lobby after their conversation to research the incidents. She said a man in his 20s at the computer beside her was looking up news videos and playing short video clips people caught on their cellphones.
“At one point we both watched a horrific video of the hostage situation and we look at each other with a shared sadness,” she said. “It was as if we both understood the others emotions in that one look and of the severity of the night.”
Kelsey then left the computer and returned to her room to find everyone on their phones checking updates and reading stories. She said she explained to her friends the death toll inside the Bataclan concert hall had reached 100 people.
“There were no words to be said, there was no comfort,” she said. “We silently began to get ready for bed, the night having quickly turned into a bloodbath.”
The following morning Kelsey awoke to more messages from friends and family who had learned of Friday night’s horrific events. The city, which she described as bustling the previous day, had come to a standstill. The streets were mostly bare, except for tourists and travelers. Many stores and restaurants were closed, as well as all national monuments, museums and Disney World.
“The city was in mourning … the president had lifted the state of emergency, but some people were still to afraid to come out,” Martin said. “The air of Pairs was one of sadness and loss.”
The streets Kelsey walked on less than 24 hours earlier were no longer buzzing with Parisians and tourists. The Musée du Louvre shut its doors while the city mourned. The Eiffel Tower no longer illuminated the city.
“It was strange to be apart of something that affected so many,” Martin said. “Today was nothing like yesterday … the president has issued three days for mourning, and the Eiffel Tower has remained dark for two nights now, but I fear it may take longer for this city to heal.”
Photos submitted by Kelsey Martin
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