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Students avoid harm in Paris attacks

| Monday, November 16, 2015

Saint Mary’s sophomore Theresa McSorley said she was so excited to arrive in Paris around noon Friday for a weekend trip with a group of students studying abroad in Rome.

“We spent the day walking the streets of Paris, eating macaroons and sight-seeing,” McSorley said in an email. “We were able to see the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triumph, the Love Lock Bridge, the Louvre Museum and so much more.

“After a beautiful day in Paris, while sitting in the Notre Dame Cathedral, I began to cry. I had just lit a candle for my family, friends and a friends’ father whose health has not been well. I took a look around the beauty of the Cathedral and felt very blessed.”

Later that night, three groups of terrorists staged attacks across the city, killing more than 120 people and injuring hundreds more. The terrorist group ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Notre Dame junior Grace Guibert said in an email, she, McSorley and two other Saint Mary’s sophomores — Keighley Ehmsen and Caroline Green — had just left dinner at 10:45 p.m. in the fourth “arrondissement,” or district, when parents and friends started reaching out to make sure they were safe.

Guibert said the fourth “arrondissement” is adjacent to the 11th “arrondissement,” where some of the attacks occurred, and the group continued walking, trying to find a cab.

“Everything was really chaotic,” Guibert said. “At first, we were in a busy area, and everyone was hustling to find a cab. When we had tried and failed for a while to get a safe ride home in that area, we were told to walk a few streets over to find cabs.

“Because the taxis were in such high demand, we were left walking for a couple of hours. There was a ton of traffic congestion; we saw upwards of 70 ambulances, tons of police vehicles, etc. zooming past us. We were lucky enough to receive help from several Parisians on the streets.”

Green said the city began to shut down shortly after they were contacted by their families.

“Restaurants and bars began to close and the city quieted down fairly quickly, leaving the streets nearly empty,” she said. “Luckily, we ran into a man named Danyel, who advised us to seek shelter seeing that we were Americans and could be targets. We informed him that we have been trying to get a taxi for the last two hours and had no luck. This man … gave us a ride back to our hostel.”

Ehmsen said the group’s travel plans changed significantly because of the attacks Friday.

“We wanted to go to Angelina’s, a famous café, but we were exhausted and a little frightened to be in big crowds the next day,” Ehmsen said. “We changed our flights to the first flight out, which was Sunday morning. We were flying with Ryan Air, and they allowed us to change the flight for free because of the circumstances.”

Guibert said the group cancelled plans to go to Versailles and tour the Catacombs.

” … We were told not to wander far from our hostel’s neighborhood, so we were restricted to that area and couldn’t see a few other landmarks we would’ve otherwise visited.”

Vice president of Student Affairs Karen Johnson said 12 students total from the Saint Mary’s Rome Program traveled to Paris last weekend on their own.

Guibert said her father contacted Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame to let them know of the students’ presence in Paris.

Johnson said when the administration found out they had students in Paris, chair of the department of global studies Jill Vihtelic reached out via email to all students studying abroad in Europe.

Johnson said she went to campus to start calling the parents of students abroad to confirm the students were safe.

Green said they received an email from the College on Saturday morning.

“We got in contact with [Saint Mary’s] Saturday morning after receiving an email from Vihtelic checking in on us and asking us to respond to the email to let her know that we were okay,” Green said. “We later received an email from her in the afternoon giving us safety instructions. The information was helpful but we had already figured this out on our own.”

“As a Notre Dame student,” Guibert said, “I received one email from Notre Dame International’s Risk Management office, also recommending numbers to call. At that point, however, our parents and families had all been hard at work calling the State Department, American Embassy, etc. We, on our own, had called several numbers, including the embassy and the consulate.”

Notre Dame spokesperson Dennis Brown said in a statement Friday night the University had several students in Paris at the time of the attacks, but that the administration had been in contact with them and they were safe.

Ehmsen said the attacks were frightening but also a learning experience.

“It is concerning to me [that] ISIS tweeted about Rome, London and Washington D.C. being the next targets,” she said. “Since we are living in Rome and I am going to London in two weeks, its frightening that these threats are in these cities.”

McSorley said her experience in Paris will forever have an affect on her.

“Just a few hours prior, I was feeling blessed at Notre Dame Cathedral for good health and the chance to experience Europe, but most importantly, now I am feeling blessed to be alive,” she said.

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About Haleigh Ehmsen

A senior at Saint Mary's, Haleigh is majoring in Communication Studies and English Literature & Writing. She serves as the Saint Mary's editor and enjoys coffee, guacamole and good books.

Contact Haleigh