Paris attacks hit home in Baltimore

Balimoreans seek out friends and students in Paris after deadly attacks

As news spread of the deadly Paris attacks, some in Baltimore quickly reached out to friends, while others remained glued to TV screens for updates.

Local universities, meanwhile, scrambled to contact students in study-abroad programs.

Authorities said at least 129 people died and more than 352 others were injured in a series of six coordinated attacks across central Paris. Eight attackers opened fire at cafes, detonated suicide bombs near a sports stadium and sprayed a crowded concert hall with automatic gunfire.

Anne Bengochea was working out at a Catonsville gym Friday night when images flashed on TV of paramedics carrying victims in a city where she had lived in for 30 years before moving to Baltimore. She immediately began making calls to friends in Paris to make sure they were OK.

Sabrina Bouarour, who is from Paris but previously studied at the Johns Hopkins University and has returned to Baltimore to work on a film about the Freddie Gray case, spent the night on her computer talking to friends on Skype, sending messages on Facebook and watching her Twitter feed for updates.

Several local universities and colleges said Saturday that they'd tracked down their students who were studying in France and that all were safe.

Bengochea reached her friends, none of whom were hurt, but they were very shaken up.

"People are in shock and very sad and worried for what is coming now," she said. "They will be scared all the time, taking the Metro, and going to the supermarket."

After the attacks, French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and a three-day period of mourning.

The attack reminded Bengochea of the 1995 Paris Metro bombings, which killed eight people and injured more than 100. While Parisians may no longer feel secure, she said the latest attacks will not change day-to-day life.

"For having lived in Paris for a long time, it's impossible to change anything, even if you want to," she said. "You live with the idea that something will happen to you. But what can you do? Not take the Metro? You continue your life, but you are in fear."

Bouarour described how surreal it was to watch news broadcasts showing places she had been.

"I saw places that I know very well," she said.

It's not the first time she has watched a city she calls home on international news. While in Paris last April, she watched the unrest in Baltimore on TV following the death of Freddie Gray.

Some of her friends in Paris had to spend the night in restaurants or other places because streets were blocked or restricted by police. Because they didn't make it home — and didn't have phone chargers —a few friends were slow to respond to her. She worried when she learned one had been at a concert Friday night, but it turned out not to be the venue where the terrorists opened fire.

"Everybody is really shocked," she said. Unlike the January attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, these appeared to be random. "This could happen anywhere. It's an international problem."

Officials from Johns Hopkins, Loyola University Maryland, Goucher College and Towson University said they'd accounted for their students studying in Paris and France and they are all safe. The University of Maryland did not respond to requests for comment.

Johns Hopkins officials said they have advised 14 undergraduates in Paris to stay close to home.

"We are monitoring the situation closely," Lori Citti, Johns Hopkins' study abroad director, said in a statement. "The Johns Hopkins Emergency Preparedness Team is working closely with our program providers in Paris, local authorities, the U.S. Department of State, and our international emergency providers (International S.O.S. and Frontier Medex) to monitor the situation. We continue to be in contact with our students and programs in Paris, and anticipate remaining in contact with them throughout the weekend."

Citti, who is in Paris, said the streets are quiet as many people are staying home, with the exception of French security forces.

Loyola said it has 17 students studying at the American University in Paris.

"An incident this unspeakably horrific is incredibly difficult to process, especially when students are far away from their families," Loyola's acting president, Susan M. Donovan, said in a statement. "They will find strength in their host communities as we will once again find strength in ours at home."

She said the school will hold a prayer service at 4 p.m. Monday.

Goucher officials said five of its students are studying in Paris. Officials at Towson said four students were studying in France but not in Paris.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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