As authorities in France worked Saturday to piece together the sequence of events at a kosher supermarket in Paris where a gunman and four hostages were killed Friday, there was an outpouring of praise online for a market employee credited with saving the lives of some customers by hiding them in a cold-storage room.
The employee, Lassana Bathily, 24, was identified in the French news as a Muslim from Mali who worked at the supermarket, Hyper Cacher, near the Porte de Vincennes in eastern Paris.
In an interview with the French channel BFMTV, Bathily said he ushered about 15 people into the basement room after the gunman burst into the shop. He then turned off the power.
“We were locked in there,” he said. “I told them to calm down, not make any noise, or else if he hears that we’re there, he can come down and kill us.”
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Later in the four-hour siege, Bathily decided to leave the room and try to escape through a freight elevator leading to the attic. He encouraged others to join him, he said, but they were worried that the gunman, identified by police as Amedy Coulibaly, would be able to hear them if they used that escape route and decided to remain hidden.
When Bathily escaped and emerged from the market while Coulibaly was still inside, he was ordered by the police to lie down and put his hands on his head.
“I was a bit confused,” he told BFMTV, perhaps not having considered that he could have been mistaken for a militant.
Video that appeared to show that scene unfolding was recorded by a witness from a service station near the market and broadcast on Friday by Europe 1, another French television channel.
Bathily was then placed in handcuffs “for an hour and a half,” he said, but eventually was able to help the authorities plan their operation to free the hostages by describing the layout of the shop.
When the people he had hidden came out at the end of the siege, Bathily said: “They congratulated me.”
“They said, ‘Really, thanks for thinking of all these ideas.’ I said, ‘It’s nothing, it’s life.’ ”
As news of his actions spread Saturday, there were numerous calls on social networks to reward him for his bravery with either the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, or French citizenship.