Inside the Bataclan: A night of terror, a tale of love

Paris CNN  — 

Lead singer Jesse Hughes scanned the crowd. “When I look around, only two words come to mind: nos amis.”

Our friends.

The band’s friends clapped their hands overhead, screamed with delight and hopped with the beat as the drums kicked in and Hughes started to croon. Eagles of Death Metal didn’t want to disappoint the sold-out crowd in the Bataclan – considered by Rolling Stone magazine to be one of the greatest small rock-n-roll venues in the world.

In the crowd on this night in November were Pat and Maria Moore, who had followed the band to 14 countries with a group of loyal friends. Maria had injured her ribs in the mosh pit at a concert in England about a week before, but nothing could keep her away from this Friday the 13th performance.

Hélène Muyal-Leiris danced with one of her friends from childhood. It was a night off for the mother of a 17-month-old boy. Her husband was home with their son, happy to see his wife enjoy what she loved: literature, movies and music. She was a free spirit, always talking about the need for the world to get along. The funky American band seemed to her a combination of her passions.

Isobel Bowdery grooved on the main floor with her boyfriend, Amaury Baudoin. The young lovers soaked in the atmosphere. The place pulsated.

Up on the balcony, Denys Plaud spun and shimmied to the beat with his shirt off, his torso bare as the music roared around him. He’d moved upstairs to have more room to enjoy his two passions: rock-n-roll and dance.

Hughes was aglow in red and yellow spotlights, and the mosh pit grinded along with the singer. After about 30 minutes, the band moved to do its latest tune, a remake of Duran Duran’s smash hit “Save A Prayer.”

The bands had sung the song together in London recently. Now Eagles of Death Metal would do it solo:

Don’t say a prayer for me now
Save it ‘til the morning after

And on the morning after, prayers were being said all over the world, for Paris and its people.

Resilience amid grief

At least 130 people were killed in seven locations in the city. More than 350 were wounded. The coordinated attack was the deadliest in France since World War II. ISIS claimed responsibility.

So much has transpired in one short week: French air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria. An international manhunt for terrorists with raids in France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Turkey. The killing of the man considered the ringleader of the assault on Paris.

And a warning from ISIS: It has its sights on New York, Rome and Washington.

But for many, thoughts keep returning to Friday night, November 13. To those moments in two restaurants, two cafes, a bar, the city’s main stadium and the Bataclan.

By the time police cleared the concert hall, 89 were dead there. Many were 20-somethings, university students or young professionals enjoying the start of their careers.

Those who survived live with two competing emotions: gratefulness and grief.

Eagles of Death Metal fans have always been a tight-knit crowd – never more so than now, bound by one awful night and determined to tell a story of love.

‘We are here to kill you’

Three gunmen came in through the front door. Two wore masks. They were dressed in black and armed with AK-47s and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

They said they were retaliating against France’s bombing of ISIS in Syria. “We are here to kill you,” one shouted.

They were calm, acting with precision as they sprayed the concert hall with bullets. One would shoot while the other reloaded. Then, repeat.

The gunfire seemed to last an eternity.

Scores of fans rushed toward exits. Others jumped on stage and hid behind massive speakers. Many dropped to the ground, struck by bullets, dodging them or paralyzed by fear.

Forty-nine-year-old Pat Moore, and his wife Maria, 50, were there with about 10 English and French fans who they’d bonded with over the music. The Moores had witnessed terror before. A decade earlier, they’d been preparing to see another band when suicide bombers struck London’s transit system, killing more than 50.

The Moores were standing toward the left front of the hall, near the stage. They saw people diving onto the ground and band members running for cover.

Pat grabbed his wife’s arm and pushed her toward a nearby exit.

Hélène Muyal-Leiris, 35, fell to the floor amid the hail of bullets. So did her friend Nicolas Strohl, who she’d known since they were both about 12. They lay still as the gunmen executed anyone who showed signs of life.

In the balcony, Denys Plaud ran for the stairs to the third floor – and kept running, up and up, followed by a growing crowd of fans desperate to escape the carnage. They found sanctuary in a tiny room and used a refrigerator to barricade the door.

Isobel Bowdery, 22, and her boyfriend, Amaury Baudoin, 24, had gotten separated in the crowd shortly before the shooting. Isobel dove to the ground, blood and bodies all around. She held her breath, trying not to cry. She listened as a wounded couple said their goodbyes. She closed her eyes and pictured everyone she’d ever loved.

Amaury was near the stage and struck by shrapnel. Pain shot through his leg and neck. He saw the silhouette of a gunman and hopped onto the stage and kept running. He searched for an exit, then ducked into a bathroom. Others joined him. Soon, more than 50 were inside.

Gunfire continued to rattle the hall. He feared for his girlfriend. Was she alive?

Huddled in the room, he thought about death. Death at the age of 24.

Faces of family and friends

Pat and Maria Moore fled toward the exit. They turned back when they realized a friend wasn’t with them. He’d been trampled in the crush to escape. He had a broken collar bone and other injuries. He got to the door just as they did.

Husband and wife grabbed him. “I’m done for,” the friend said. He wanted to sit down. They hoisted him up and made their way down the street.

Lead singer Jesse Hughes sprinted past with his girlfriend. “Run, baby, run,” he urged her.

Upstairs, crammed in a room with at least a dozen others, Denys Plaud could do nothing but sit in the dark and listen to the gunfire – at first far below, then alarmingly close. The shooting went on for over an hour. Shots. Silence. Then, more shots.

Bullets hit the wall. He wondered if it would hold up.

In the bathroom backstage, Amaury Baudoin felt a desperate optimism take over. Strangers, huddled together, tried to reassure each other. If the gunmen found them, they decided, they would overpower them.

“All the while, I was thinking of Isobel.”

Isobel was amid the carnage on the main floor. But she did not move. She did not flinch. She did not want to alert the killers that she was still alive.

She was curled into a fetal position. A wounded man shielded her body. “Don’t run,” he told her. “Just stay.”

What do you do when death is at hand?

Isobel pictured the faces of her family, her friends. And she whispered over and over: “I love you.”

Makeshift memorials have popped up outside the Bataclan to honor those killed and wounded inside.

‘I just wanted to be with her’

Antoine Leiris received a message from his wife’s sister. “How are you?” it said.

He had not heard Paris was under siege. He turned on the television. He kept thinking anything was possible when he saw the Bataclan was targeted. Then, worry consumed him. He couldn’t reach Hélène. He thought of their 17-month-old son growing up without his mother.

Married and a mother to a young son, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, was shot inside the concert hall.

He spent the next 24 hours searching every hospital in Paris and its suburbs. Hélène was nowhere to be found.

Finally, Saturday evening, the medical examiner’s office called; his wife’s body was there. He went straight to the office. It was closed. He tried to force his way in, but couldn’t.

“I felt really bad to have left her alone for two nights,” Antoine told CNN. “Dead or alive, that was not the point. I just wanted to be with her.”

‘Overwhelming love’

The Moores made their way to a friend’s apartment. Still in shock, they drank a bottle of wine and sipped hard whiskey. Four comrades had been shot but survived. They nicknamed one of them “Two Bullets.”

“We’ve had so much support,” Maria Moore said. “There’s been an overwhelming amount of love and even laughs in the past few days.”

Laughter, even amid the tears. The friends had decided to meet up at the Paris show in honor of a woman in their network, a rock photographer, who had committed suicide last year.

“We think she was looking after us all in there, because we all made it out.”

Maria paused. “I don’t know if I believe in that stuff. But it’s a comforting thought.”

Maria Moore, second from right, with friends.

The terror won’t prevent the group from doing what they love. They’ll still dance at rock gigs. They’ll still visit Paris. “We’ll go back the first chance we get.”

Denys Plaud was evacuated by police from the balcony. He was shaken up “in a bad way” and took shelter in a nearby courtyard where local residents offered him clothes to keep warm and a bed for the night.

But like the Moores, he remains committed to his beloved music. Reflecting on his decision to move from the lower floor to the balcony because there was more room to dance, he said, “That’s probably what saved my life.”

Hélène Muyal-Leiris died in her friend’s arms at the Bataclan. Her husband Antoine was reunited with her body on Monday. He penned a Facebook post that went viral.

“On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son,” he wrote, “but you will not have my hatred.”

He later elaborated on why he felt it was important to write such a tribute. “I didn’t have a choice,” he told CNN, “if I wanted my son to grow up as a human being who is open to the world around him, like his mother, to grow up as a person who will love what she loved: literature, culture, music, cinema, pictures.”

He sat with his son. They talked about how much they miss her. They listened to music she would play, and together they cried.

“My son is only 17 months old, but he feels everything. He knows everything,” Antoine said. “The grief is here and we keep it as a ‘treasure’ – it is a souvenir of her. We don’t pretend we’re not sad, that we’re not devastated.

“No, we are – but we’re still standing.”

Isobel Bowdery and Amaury Baudoin weren’t sure if the other had survived.

Amaury doesn’t recall how much time he spent in hiding. When at last he and the others were escorted out of the hall, police told them to keep their eyes on the ceiling. But Amaury glanced around.

“My eyes swept the room, my stomach churning at the thought of finding Isobel sprawled in the center of this disaster,” he wrote on Facebook.

“There were bodies everywhere. … It wasn’t a war scene. It was a slaughter house.”

Isobel had been taken to a police safe area. She worried about Amaury’s fate. It had been hours since they last saw one another.

She heard a voice crying her name. “Isobel! ISOBEL!” It was distant at first, but grew closer. She ran toward Amaury and leapt into his arms, draping herself around his neck.

They were alive. They thought of all the others who perished, especially the 20-somethings, revellers of music.

It is for them they now live.

“As much as the terror and the anguish that was in that room,” Isobel told CNN, “there was a lot of love. There was a lot of positivity in such a tragic, tragic place.”

The terrorists, she was determined, would not win.

“I didn’t want them to have their horrible actions determine the end of my life. I wanted the people that I loved to win – to know that they blessed me with an incredible life.

“It was important that if I was going to die – if the next bullet was for me – that I left saying I love you. And in that way, it felt OK to die, because I had love in my heart.”

It is the feeling she carries with her now, in the city known as an international symbol of love.

That’s the best way, she said, to defeat terrorism.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Poppy Harlow, Hala Gorani, Lauren Moorhouse, Saskya Vandoorne and Florence Davey-Attlee contributed to this story.