21:22 on October 5, 2021, modified at 21:56 on October 5, 2021
There were first names. Pictures. Dropped a mask to wipe away the tears. Strangled voices. A hand went behind the back to comfort. A kiss on a forehead. In the courtroom where the trial of November 13 takes place on the Île de la Cité in Paris, the bodies speak of humanity. Words tell the opposite; the entangled corpses, the “gusts in the neck”, the chilling silence that follows the shots; and the screaming, heartbreaking. In La Belle Equipe, in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, many have their own customs. That evening they came to celebrate birthdays, that of Hodda, whose wife Gregory is in charge, also that of Jessica, who testified on Friday. At the helm, tell it all to the lucky gang. The great team. Many knew each other that evening. It is not a loved one they have lost, but often a lifetime.
After the shootings, total chaos
So says Sarah, 34. She is supported by her sister, her hands trembling on the sheet of paper on which she has deposited her testimony. At the back of the room, by moment we mean her newborn baby, two and a half months old, who comes forward to call her. Support her you want to think. She says she was “saved” because the last table available that night at La Belle Equipe was in the dining room, in the back, near the toilets.
For minutes, in her soft voice, she describes “the total chaos”, “the silence of death” that follows the shooting. “He was shattered by a heartbreaking cry, and then by others.” “I’m one of the lucky ones, I wasn’t hurt, I wasn’t covered with a body (…) I thought maybe my testimony wasn’t as valid as theirs [les blessés physiques, Ndlr], but maybe it will help me move on,” she continues, before talking about this career in the restaurant business that she had to give up.
I miss this Sarah a bit
“I’m constantly thinking about death, about the fact that something is going to happen to me. When I go down the stairs, I tell myself I’m going to fall and break my neck. When I’m waiting for the subway, I think that someone is going to push me. It’s exhausting,” she describes again, before recalling her permanent care for her newborn baby. “That night I lost a part of myself, the carefree, happy, fearless Sarah. I kind of miss that Sarah.”
Khaled lost his two sisters, Hodda and Halima
The great Khaled comes after her, he comes to talk about his sisters, Hodda and Halima, both murdered in La Belle Equipe. The young man talks about his childhood in Burgundy, his eight siblings, his illiterate parents, his arrival in Paris at the age of 20, where Hodda hosted. “We didn’t have an easy childhood, but we had a lot of love. Our upbringing was between siblings, he said, moved. I will try not to cry. We will try to be strong as it should be.”
Strong, he sure is. He continues his story. After the shots, which he believes to be an electrical problem, he has only one idea in mind: to find his two sisters. “I step over all bodies (…) When I saw all this, I am a Muslim, not a practitioner, but my first words were to appeal to God, to ask him for courage.”
It’s like losing Messi in Barcelona
He adds, addressing the accused, “The same God as you, but the true God.” “With fear came courage,” he said, talking about the bodies displaced to find that of his sister Halima, mother of two children now living in Senegal.
Hodda, she breathes, when Halima died instantly. He hopes he can save her. The firefighters and the doctors explain to him that this will not be the case. “They had to save the others. I stayed. I didn’t want to leave as long as she was breathing. I come from a poor family, Hodda, she paid for the holidays, she helped the whole family. If we lose Messi at Barcelona. They have the mainstay taken from the family.”
I don’t want to be afraid anymore
He also tells the rest, difficult, painful. “I felt out of society. I didn’t believe in anything, I wanted everyone to die. We don’t deserve to be on Earth when such people exist, he testifies. I have tried enough to resume the restoration, I have fought. Every time I cracked. It’s like cutting the fingers of a pianist. This disaster is too much for one person.”
Accompanied by victims’ associations, he slowly climbs the slope, intervening in schools in the suburbs of Paris and Nice. Today, the father of two children, he works again in the restaurant business. “I don’t want to be afraid anymore. Love always wins.”
Grégory lost Justine, Marie-Amélie lost Marie-Aimée
The civil parties that were present at the site of the attacks that evening are following up on the next of kin. Those who have lost a love, a son, a daughter. Grégory approaches, he comes to talk about his “Juju”, Justine Dupont, 34, also deceased in La Belle Equipe. He asks for a photo of the smiling young woman, followed by images of the happy couple. A photo of the young woman on her black t-shirt. “That was Justine, my other half. She came into my life, she pierced all my shells.”
I’m married to a ghost
As his testimony progresses, we understand: how much this encounter saved him, when he suffered a breakup, how Justine accompanied and helped him, he who was often gripped with rage, and how devastated his disappearance was. Instead, he shows the ring he is wearing, like a wedding ring.
“I’m married to a ghost,” he said, talking about his life in their shared apartment, about his nights he couldn’t get through in their bed before. He sleeps on his couch for six years. “She controlled my anger (…) Today it is very difficult for me to keep calm. I have a lot of anger and hatred.”
The man is consumed with guilt. “I apologize to Justine’s friends, her father, her mother, her brother, her cousin, her godson, because I was not with my wife, I was not there to protect her.”
He repeats it several times in court: he blames himself terribly for not accompanying her that evening. “I was told Justine didn’t suffer. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there to try to save her, to join her in her last breath, her last heartbeat… And that weighs heavy on me. I feel guilty.”
“I, Juju, I still love him,” he continues. “These people,” he said, pointing at them, “torn a part of me.” He will leave the bar and look at them one by one for a long time.
I was his big sister and I liked it
After him, Marie-Amélie comes to tell about her sister, Marie-Aimée, who was also in La Belle Equipe and died with her companion Thierry. Sami, the deceased’s son, accompanies her to the bar. He won’t talk, he was 13 at the time. That night he lost a lot of his tontons and tatas. That’s how he looked at his mother’s friends, Marie-Aimée. “Marie-Aimée was my little sister, we were separated for 12 years. I was her big sister and I enjoyed that for 34 years.”
“The years that followed were tinged with silences, anger, tears (…) For 6 years I have been trying to help Sami build himself up with this pain but also without pain. I don’t want it to become his identity.” Today Sami works in a restaurant, “not just like that”: it is run by two brothers, friends of his mother, who were present at La Belle Equipe on November 13.
Different parents, different dramas
Anne-Laure’s father, also shot by terrorists in this bar in the 11th arrondissement, comes to pay her tribute. “Anne-Laure is no longer there. Her clothes remain neatly arranged. Anne-Laure is no longer there, her drawings remain. Anne-Laure is no longer there, remains a medal of terrorism. Anne-Laure is no longer there. no longer are our memories and this photo,” he said as the photo of the young brunette woman, smiling, appears on the screen.
The father and mother of Victor Munoz, 24, who also died at La Belle Equipe, will also testify. Different parents, another drama. Interrupted lives, and still the same suffering. “He was a handsome, sunny, cheerful, sunny, affectionate boy”, born in Barcelona, arrived in Paris at the age of 10. Last weekend, Victor and Alexandra, his friend, celebrate their first apartment. A week later, it was she who learned the terrible news during a phone call from the Forensic Institute.
We put a Barça shirt in his box
“Victor loved sports, especially football and Barça. We put a Barça shirt in his chest, as well as Barcelona sand, his mother said. Victor’s death destroyed our lives. We were happy, proud of our sons. From one day , happiness disappears And a life without happiness, without project appears (…) I have kept his texts and his emails, but little by little I forget the sound of his voice and it makes me infinitely sad.”
A real girl from the 11th arrondissement
After Victor’s father asks the president how to live with “such mourning”, Lamia Mondeguer’s younger brother and mother will succeed each other at the helm, also killed at La Belle Equipe. For minutes, her mother describes their neighborhood – “Lamia was a real girl from the 11th arrondissement” – where they lived for 46 years, she, from Egypt, her husband, from Finistère. The latter is not in the room.
“He should have been by our side, but he went to his ladybug. That’s what he called Lamia. Grief devoured him from within.’ A little later she describes her daughter’s group of friends, who guided and supported her for six years; “this gift” that Lamia left him. In the courtroom, all of humanity and its opposite.