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Couple turned honeymoon in Paris into study of terror reaction

Newlyweds Ryan Gielen and Katy Wright-Mead, married on October 31, 2015, got a more memorable honeymoon than they ever could have imagined after they arrived in the Montmartre section of Paris on Nov. 13 — one hour before terrorists laid siege to another part of town three miles away. An impromptu memorial emerges a hundred yards from the Memorial a la Republique, itself an impromptu memorial, where Parisians came by the hundreds to place flowers, poems, drawings and to light candles in rememberance and mourning. Photo by Ryan Gielen
Newlyweds Ryan Gielen and Katy Wright-Mead, married on October 31, 2015, got a more memorable honeymoon than they ever could have imagined after they arrived in the Montmartre section of Paris on Nov. 13 — one hour before terrorists laid siege to another part of town three miles away. An impromptu memorial emerges a hundred yards from the Memorial a la Republique, itself an impromptu memorial, where Parisians came by the hundreds to place flowers, poems, drawings and to light candles in rememberance and mourning. Photo by Ryan Gielen (Submitted photo by Ryan Gielen / Baltimore Sun)

It could be considered a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time, depending on how you look at it.

Either way, a 1997 Centennial High School graduate and his new wife got a more memorable honeymoon than they ever could have imagined after they arrived in the Montmartre section of Paris on Nov. 13 — one hour before terrorists laid siege to another part of town three miles away.

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Newlyweds Ryan Gielen and Katy Wright-Mead had spent the first two weeks after their Oct. 31 wedding in the cities of Domfront and Strasbourg before heading to the French capital for more sightseeing.

Gielen first learned of the multiple shootings and suicide bombings that left 130 dead and more than 150 wounded from his father, Price Gielen, who called from the family home in Ellicott City to make sure the newlyweds were out of harm's way.

The honeymooners spent a worried first night in Montmartre watching news coverage and monitoring social media while trying to figure out how to get out of the country, said Gielen.

"But after we woke up the next morning, we had an entirely different perspective — and we decided to stay and film what was going on," said Gielen, an independent film producer and director.

"This wasn't about finding the drama, but about connecting with people. We felt like we could help translate their experiences a little bit differently" than the approach many members of the global media were taking, said Gielen, who is creative director for Believe Limited, a digital content agency in Los Angeles, where the couple reside.

Their change of heart didn't surprise the groom's mother, Andrea Gielen, a Johns Hopkins University professor, who was the first in the family to hear about the deadly attacks as she was flying out of BWI Marshall on Nov. 13.

"They said they wanted to capture a unique perspective on a horrible experience," she said. "This was a joint decision on their part because they both felt so passionately about it."

Andrea Gielen happened to glimpse a breaking-news report on a fellow passenger's laptop as their jet was taxiing on the runway. She immediately called her husband to ask him to check on their son and daughter-in-law in France. They confirmed they were safe in their rented apartment about an hour later.

"I believe that you can't worry until there's something to worry about," she said, "but my heart had dropped into my stomach, and it seemed like an eternity before Price found out that they were OK."

Armed with a Canon 5D Mark II camera, an assortment of lenses he had brought along for sightseeing, and high-quality microphone apps downloaded at the hotel, Ryan Gielen shot about eight hours of footage in Paris over five days.

The couple spent time near Le Bataclan, the theater where terrorists had opened fire during a concert, and at Place de la Republique, a square where an impromptu shrine to the victims has appeared at the base of a monument.

As they filmed, Gielen found himself repeating the few French phrases he knows.

"I kept saying, 'Je suis desole,' which means 'I am sorry,' and telling [natives] I could only speak a little French," Gielen said as he and his wife, a producer and film editor at Believe Limited, asked residents to express their thoughts on camera.

Gielen said impromptu discussions groups kept popping up on the streets of Paris.

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"I believe the types of heated debates Katy and I witnessed would've led to violent climaxes in America," he said. "People wanted to engage, interact and walk away with the dignity and well-being of the other side intact. I've never seen anything like it."

Wright-Mead, who scouted film locations and helped conduct interviews, was also impressed.

"The demeanor of the police was respectful and level-headed, and citizens were tolerant of differing opinions," she said. "It was incredible."

She said the couple "didn't feel what we did was at all reckless" in choosing to stay in Paris. They didn't have to give up the rest of their honeymoon to take on the film project, either; they just "put it on pause."

Gielen estimated that half of the footage was recorded in French and said he will have to get the interviews translated to understand what he has and what he might do with the film.

The couple traveled to London five days after the attacks and flew out of Heathrow on Tuesday in order to celebrate Thanksgiving at the Gielen family home in Dorsey's Search.

"Ryan married the perfect person," Andrea Gielen said. "They are a wonderful couple, and I am inspired by them. This experience will influence the rest of their lives."

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