‘I couldn’t save them’ – a columnist at Charlie Hebdo describes the horror
Paris (AFP) – An emotional Charlie Hebdo columnist on Thursday described the horrific scene that greeted him after his colleagues were shot dead at the French satirical newspaper’s office and said “I couldn’t save them”.
Patrick Pelloux would normally have been at the editorial meeting that was the main scene of the attack that left 12 dead.
However on Wednesday, in his other job as head of the emergency room doctors’ association in France, he was attending a meeting elsewhere in Paris to improve links between the different emergency services.
“I was at this meeting when Jean Luc, the graphic artist (of Charlie Hebdo) called me to tell me: You have to come here quickly, they have shot at us with a Kalashnikov,” Pelloux told AFP in a phone interview.
“I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. When I arrived it was dreadful,” he said, choking with emotion.
Pelloux arrived at the offices three minutes after the attack with a high-ranking fire department official, who Pelloux said acted “heroically” as he triggered the emergency response.
“And as we were taking care of the victims, they (the attackers), were still on the streets killing people,” Pelloux said.
– ‘Stupidity will not win’
Five of France’s best-known cartoonists were killed in the attack.
Charlie Hebdo’s 47-year-old editor-in-chief, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, who was also one of its cartoonists, was murdered along with the police bodyguard assigned to him following death threats after the paper had published cartoons mocking Islam.
Four other cartoonists — Jean “Cabu” Cabut, 76; Georges Wolinski, 80; Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac, 57; and Philippe Honore, 73 — were also slain, as were three other employees, including a well-known economist, Bernard Maris.
Pelloux described the bloody scene in the editorial meeting room.
“I think he (Charb) must have got up to insult them, or to make an obscene gesture at them or to take away their weapons. In the position that he died his body was twisted in his chair, it was as if he was shot as he was getting up. And I know him well, he was like my brother, and I know that he would have done that to them.”
Among those injured in the shootings were Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, also a cartoonist in addition to being news editor, and journalists Philippe Lancon and Fabrice Nicolino. According to Pelloux, they were said to be doing better on Thursday.
In a separate interview on the iTele channel, Pelloux said he had called French President Francois Hollande just after the attack.
“He said ‘I’m on my way’. The president wanted to speak to us when he saw that the newspaper was in difficulty this summer,” Pelloux said.
“We had gone to see him. The president wanted to change the laws so that these newspapers could continue to exist.”
The Charlie Hebdo columnist said despite the killing of the paper’s top staff, he was “optimistic” after seeing the solidarity expressed in the wake of the attacks by both heads of state and ordinary people who had taken to the streets.
“The two things that will scare away fundamentalism are culture and freedom of the press. It’s democratic countries that must keep these things alive,” he said.
He confirmed that Charlie Hebdo will be published as usual next Wednesday.
“It’s very hard. We are all suffering, with grief, with fear, but we will do it anyway because stupidity will not win,” said Pelloux.