Charlie Hebdo survivor: 'I didn't want to stare death in the face'

A boy lights a candle in front of the 'Charlie Hebdo' offices, where writer Sigolène Vinson's life was spared. (Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters)

A boy lights a candle in front of the 'Charlie Hebdo' offices, where writer Sigolène Vinson's life was spared. (Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters)

Sigolène Vinson, a writer at the satirical magazine, has described how she hid as Kalashnikov-toting brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi picked off colleagues one by one. Eleven people at the magazine died and a police officer was murdered as the gunmen fled.

Vinson said she had been in the kitchen making coffee when the Kouachi brothers burst into the editorial meeting.

“We heard two pops … we all wondered what it was,” Vinson told Le Monde newspaper.

She said Franck Brinsolaro, a police protection officer assigned to Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, got up and appeared to be reaching for his pistol.

“He said ‘Don’t move’. I threw myself on the ground … I knew it wasn’t firecrackers.”

Vinson crawled towards some offices when the door of the editorial office burst open and a man cried: “Allahu akbar … where is Charb?”

“I heard gunfire. I didn’t look back, I didn’t want to stare death in the face and I was sure I was going to die,” she said.

She joined other staff hiding in a colleague’s office where they could hear but not see the killing spree.

“They didn’t fire in bursts, they shot one bullet after another. Slowly. Nobody shouted. Everyone must have been taken completely by surprise,” Vinson said.

She heard footsteps and more gunfire. One of the gunmen, later identified as Saïd Kouachi, looked around an office wall and took aim.

“I looked at him. He had big dark eyes, a gentle look. I felt he was slightly troubled, like he was searching for my name,” she said.

“He said: ‘Don’t be afraid, calm down. I won’t kill you. You’re a woman, we don’t kill women. But think about what you do, what you do is bad. I’m sparing you and because I’ve spared you, you will read the Qur’an’.

“I thought it quite cruel of him to ask me not to be afraid when he’d just killed everyone and was aiming at me with his gun. I thought it unfair to say that what we’d done was wrong, when good was on our side.

“I nodded my head, to maintain some kind of contact. I didn’t want to lose eye contact because Jean-Luc [layout editor] was under the table … I fully understood that if this guy didn’t kill women, he killed men.”

She said Saïd Kouachi turned towards the editorial room where his brother Chérif had shot Elsa Cayat, another Charlie writer, and shouted: “We don’t kill women,” three times. The men then left.

Vinson described the scene of horror next door. She stepped over colleagues’ bodies to reach her mobile phone in her coat pocket and called the emergency services.

“It’s Charlie, come quickly. They are all dead … they’re all dead,” she told them. – © Guardian News & Media 2015



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