Paris attacks have Calgary lawyer vowing to return

Julia Turnbull says her night in Paris as the terrorists struck was one of the most frightening experiences of her life, but she will not let fear prevent her from living life.

'I will not let the terrorists win,' says Julia Turnbull who was in Paris during horrific attacks

Julia Turnbull, with her daughter Lauren and her husband Jim Letourneau, dining out at a restaurant in Paris. (Submitted by Julia Turnbull)

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Julia Turnbull of Calgary writes about her experience of being in Paris when co-ordinated and deadly attacks hit the French capital. She had spent a month in Paris with her husband and was about to leave for Montenegro when the terrorists struck.

Julia Turnbull says: 'I realize that I love Paris and will return again and again.' (Submitted by Julia Turnbull)

Friday, Nov. 13 was our last perfect day in Paris.  

I rose early and walked to our local boulangerie to purchase breakfast. Later in the day, I walked for miles, mainly in the vicinity of the terrorist attacks that would come that evening. During my walk, I mused about how the trip had been so wonderful and that everything had gone so well.  As I wandered, I saw a young couple and had a fleeting thought about terrorist attacks. No idea why.

I didn't mention either of these thoughts to my husband Jim at our lovely dinner that night. After dinner, we waddled home and were settled in our apartment by about 10:30 p.m.

'All hell breaking out'

I was nicely nestled under the covers, reading my novel, when Jim poked his head in and calmly said that there had been a shooting at a restaurant and some people had been killed.

By the time I got to our living room, all hell was breaking out. Jim then told me about the concert hall massacre, which was less than two kilometres from our apartment. At that point, 18 people had been murdered and dozens more were held hostage.  

Our apartment was practically vibrating with the noise. It was completely unnerving.

Bits of news were coming fast and furious, as the situation was unfolding before our very eyes. I have never heard so many sirens and ambulances in my entire life. Our apartment was practically vibrating with the noise. It was completely unnerving.

Our apartment was gorgeous. I could have lived there forever. The ceilings were high, at least 12 feet, the walls were white, and the floors were a lovely light hardwood. It was glamorous.

'We were under siege'

But our Paris apartment didn't seem glamorous that night. It seemed like a big, white tomb that we were encased in. We could hear all kinds of noises, from people speaking foreign languages (not French), to people yelling and cheering and all kinds of ruckus in the street.  

Eight men wired for evil terrorized Paris that night, but they did not touch its soul. 

There were strange noises and banging within our building, as well. We really couldn't see anything out of our windows, so our minds played all kinds of tricks on us. We weren't allowed to go outside. We did not know anyone in our building.

Paris was under a curfew for the first time since 1944.   

President Francois Hollande was on the news, giving instructions and asking everyone to stay inside and get off the streets. It was abject calamity. We felt like we were under siege. They closed the subway, then the borders. We didn't know if planes would be flying.  We were apprehensive because our apartment rental was up the next day and the owners were coming back and we had no place to stay.  

Julia Turnbull and her husband are in the midst of a four-month European vacation. (Submitted by Julia Turnbull)

We got more and more tired, but could not sleep. We had nothing left to eat or drink because we had cleaned out our fridge. Soon it was 2 a.m. and we still sat, paralyzed, but outwardly calm. We notified the Canadian government that we were safe. It was all very surreal.

'Planning our escape'

Finally, we went to bed, with our fully-charged cell phones in the room in case there was a break-in. We slept a little, then woke at 4 a.m. 

I started planning our escape.

We were scheduled to leave Paris at 2 p.m. on a flight to the country of Montenegro - the next stop on our four-month European adventure. But I also started looking into Air Canada flights to take us back to Toronto because I wanted to get out of Paris and would buy those tickets if we could not get to Montenegro.

We left early for the airport on Saturday. The streets were eerily quiet. There were a few cars and a few shops open, but the vibrancy had evaporated. No one was smiling. No one was happy. Gloom had descended on the City of Light. The church bells of Notre Dame were ringing incessantly to commemorate each of the 128 persons murdered.

We arrived in Montenegro with a myriad of reflections, some of which I will share. I still believe in the goodness of man. I still believe that most people are inherently kind. Eight men wired for evil terrorized Paris that night, but they did not touch its soul. Paris rose up. People responded.

Humanity trumps terrorism 

I have been overwhelmed by the acts of generosity.The owner of our apartment called us the next morning to say we could stay there for free for the next few days. We don't even know them. Parisians were lining up to donate blood. The hospital computer crashed because of so many people wanting to help. Kindness was everywhere.

I have also reflected on so many of our friends who reached out to us across the ocean on Friday night via e-mail and Facebook. It was so comforting to know that so many people cared about us. I was so impressed with how Jim and I handled our worst travel crisis ever. We were calm and methodical and did not let our inner demons control us. I was proud of our measured response.

I cannot imagine the pain of those families who have lost loved ones or have to go forward with these horrific injuries. There is nothing I can say to comfort them.

I will return

It will be many months before anyone can make sense of this, if ever. For 29 nights, I felt completely safe and comfortable in Paris, but one horrific night impacted me adversely.

Now, after a few days of contemplation, I realize that I love Paris and will return again and again.  

I will not let fear prevent me from living my life. I will not let the terrorists win.

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About the Author

Julia Turnbull

Calgary lawyer

Julia Turnbull is a Calgary lawyer. She and her husband are in the midst of a four-month European vacation. They spent a month in Paris. The couple was in the French capital the night of the terrorist attacks.

Julia Turnbull


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