At Monday's memorial in Domont for the victims of Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, many of the hundreds of participants teared up as they sang the French national anthem. That isn’t a common sight in France; the words of “La Marseillaise” are often deemed violent, and many people don’t even know them.
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But everyone gathered in this northern Paris neighborhood, not far from the stadium outside of which three suicide bombers blew themselves up Friday night, knew the words and seemed proud to sing them. They seemed to express their feelings: “They are coming to slaughter our women and children. To arms, citizens, form your battalions! March!”
In the front row sat the parents, sister and partner of Nicolas Catinat, 37, a carpenter who was shot to death in the Bataclan concert hall. Dozens of friends came; policemen and firefighters saluted the flag.
Also there was the mother of Robert Rouhier, who was critically wounded and is still in a coma. She said she came to honor Catinat, and is trying to remain optimistic about her son’s fate.
Rouhier said her son, his partner and two friends had gone to the Bataclan to see the Eagles of Death Metal. “I can’t know what happened that day, because nobody can describe the events,” she said. “Everyone is in shock. My daughter-in-law was with him, and she’s completely traumatized. First she described the tragedy one way, and a few minutes later in a totally different way.”
“I have no doubt my son and Nicolas were heroes, because my son’s girlfriend wasn’t wounded,” she added. “She wasn’t wounded because they protected her. I have no doubt about that.”
The entire neighborhood was shocked by Catinat’s death. “I don’t believe any resident of Domont has been killed like that,” said Celine, a neighbor.
“We feel like we’ve lost a son,” said Joel Gottsweiler.
Anani, a supermarket cashier, praised Catinat’s manners. “He always said hello and goodbye,” she recalled. “God knows others don’t act that way. They are crude, but he was nice.”
Catinat’s friends recalled the days when they all were in a band together.
“Nicolas was crazy about heavy metal,” said Alain, the father of one of his friends. “That’s why he went to this concert. The band appears here only rarely.”
“We’re devastated by his death,” he added. “At first, I feared my son was also at the Bataclan, but he wasn’t.”
Alain recalled taking Catinat and his son on a camping trip when they were teenagers. “I’m not surprised to hear that he acted like a hero at the concert,” he said. “They were brave young men.”
Miriam, a nurse, was working at the hospital in Saint-Denis, near the stadium, on the night of the attacks.
“I helped a boy who was having an epileptic seizure, a woman whose daughter was unconscious and others, but I was relieved when the doctors told me to go back to my regular patients,” she said.
“It was very hard for me to help those people. Many doctors and nurses came to the hospital and volunteered to help the wounded.”
The ambulance crews who hurried to the stadium knew that other attacks were also happening the area.
“It was like a war,” said Thomas Bouche, director of the local Red Cross. “We had never seen such sights. It looked like a very violent movie or a nightmare that we all hoped would end.
“The army sees things like this, but not the rescue services,” he added. “Many were in shock.”