Victims and the bereaved begin to build a vast verbal memorial to the dead and injured

·3-min read

The court has already received requests to testify from more than 350 civil witnesses. These are the people who were affected by the November 2015 killings, either directly or because family members and friends were killed or injured in the attacks. Each has been telling the court their version of the night of 13 November 2015. The basic facts are the same. The stories are all different.

After the opening weeks of this trial, with their succession of police and judicial investigators, ballistics, explosives and medical specialists, we felt we knew more than we would ever need to know about shock waves, blast zones, high-velocity ammunition, body parts, wounds, traumatic injury, terrorism and death. We were wrong.

We didn't know that one man lost his life in the first explosion at the Stade de France because he chose to phone his wife rather than watch the match between France and Germany.

That another thought he had lost his 13-year-old son because he wanted to buy a merguez sandwich outside the sports ground. That he cried when he found the boy, safe. And that his son consoled him.

We heard a cavalry officer of the Republican Guard, who had been on crowd control duty at the Stade de France, explain that he stayed at the scene, disobeying an order, because an injured woman had whispered "don't leave us".

The wrong place at the wrong time

There were those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there were those who miraculously escaped.

Like the girl who dropped her friends outside the Belle Équipe bar and drove off to park her car. By the time she got back, the friends were either dead or terribly injured.

Five friends thought they were looking for the Belle Époquerestaurant. They were late. That mistake saved their lives.

A young man was asked by a friend at the Belle Équipe to buy cigarettes on his way to the venue. The delay meant he was on the opposite side of the street when the shooting started.

There were those who went out to smoke, to call a friend, and found themselves in the direct line of fire. One man survived because he was protected by a tree. One woman because she was protected by her brother, a professional rugby player. His injuries mean he will never play again.

We heard the tragic story of a first date which was also the last.

Of groups of lifelong friends torn asunder. We heard stories of heroism. Of generosity. Of grief. Of guilt.

Anger against the administration

There was also anger. Against the laborious administration of the fund established to help victims. Against the emotional incompetence of some medical officials. Occasionally against the accused.

But most victims and families stressed the need to look to the future, to avoid the trap of hatred. Few spoke of vengeance. Fewer still of justice.

But all recognised the importance of this trial in their personal journey towards a healed future. Some hoped the hearing would lead to a more open, more inclusive society in France.

We heard from the accused. We had another so-called "justification" for the attacks as revenge for coalition airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq. And, from a different accused, an expression of sympathy with the families.

The trial continues on Monday with the consideration of legal technicalities. The public hearings resume on Tuesday.

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