Seattle residents visiting Paris report that it’s “eerily quiet” after a night of chaos and tragedy. Local law-enforcement officials say they are monitoring the situation in France but know of no threats in the Puget Sound area.
The terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday night quickly reverberated in Seattle, as local residents traveling abroad sought shelter indoors and school officials here tried to account for their students studying in the violence-stricken city.
French media described several coordinated attacks across the city, including shootings and explosions that have killed more than 100 people. Dozens were reported dead at the Bataclan concert hall, where the U.S. band Eagles of Death Metal was playing. The California band performed at The Showbox in Seattle in September.
“We heard helicopters overhead,” said Sandy Brown, a Seattle community activist and recent City Council candidate, who is in Paris. “We have heard what may be a couple of loud explosions in the distance. Otherwise, it’s been eerily quiet on a Friday night.”
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Brown said he, his partner and daughter were staying at an Airbnb rental about a mile from the Bataclan. His Airbnb host called him late Friday to tell him that there had been “a huge series of terrorism attacks and we needed to be certain we stayed inside.”
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Houston Kraft, a motivational speaker from Seattle, learned the news while he was out to dinner with his wife in Paris. He turned on his phone’s data service and saw a message from a friend.
Until Friday night, “It’s been beautiful and magical and everything Paris is supposed to be,” Kraft said in an interview. He and his wife, Harley, called a cab but it never came. With some help from friends, they arranged for a car to take them to a hotel instead of going back to their Airbnb rental, which was near one of the attacks.
“You have a sense of safety,” Kraft said from the hotel. But with the coordinated attacks in different parts of the city, he said, “It’s so decentralized, it’s hard to figure out where safety is.”
“Attacks on humanity”
Local officials expressed grave concern over the Paris attacks.
Seattle police and the local office of the FBI say they’re unaware of any local threat related to the attacks.
“We’re monitoring the situation very closely,” said Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. “Our hearts go out to the people of Paris during this very difficult time.”
Frank Montoya Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field division, issued the following statement:
“It’s too early to comment on the nature of the incident, but our office is in close contact with FBI Headquarters. We do not have information that would suggest a pending threat to the Seattle area. However, the FBI remains vigilant and, as we do every day, will continue to work with law enforcement partners to detect, disrupt, and dismantle any threats that may emerge.”
In another statement, King County Executive Dow Constantine called the attacks in Paris “attacks on humanity.”
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U.S. Rep Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, said his thoughts were with the people of France.
“While the extent of the attacks is still unknown, these horrific acts of terror highlight the continued challenge we face in the fight against terrorist networks,” Smith said in a statement. “We must stand strong as an international community and remain steadfast in our belief that freedom and justice will prevail.”
College students abroad
A total of 29 University of Washington students are studying abroad in Paris, said Norm Arkans, a spokesman for the University of Washington. The university is trying to reach them and contact their families, but there is “no indication that any of them have been harmed or are in danger.” Some students are in dorms and apartments, and others are staying with host families, he added.
Jeanie Lindsay, a third-year student at UW, only learned of the attacks at night, after a day spent at Paris’ Disneyland and a dinner out. Her host family’s apartment isn’t far from where some of the violence occurred.
“Through the open window in my room I started hearing more and more sirens and helicopters,” Lindsay wrote in an email. “They’re still on right now.”
Another nine UW students are studying at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, known by its nickname, Sciences Po.
Western Washington University officials said four of their students are studying in Paris. The university has reached out to them to offer support but has not yet received a response.
Brooke Burns, who attended Seattle University and is studying in Paris, was celebrating with classmates at a bar near a restaurant where one of the attacks took place. She didn’t hear gunshots and only became aware of the horror unfolding across the city as she began searching online.
A DJ continued to play music, she said. Some people danced. Two girls meditated a couple of seats away. More and more people began checking their phones.
“Slowly you can kind of see the whole room, everyone’s faces glowing from their phones” as the scope of the mayhem became clear, she said.
Burns had brought her computer and frantically searched for information on the attacks. She stayed for hours until arranging to spend the night at the nearby apartment of a classmate’s aunt, where 10 people took shelter.
“I can’t fathom it, the horror of it,” she said of the attacks. “I think I’m going to wait and see how life changes here.”
Later Saturday, she says, she needs to make it across town to her own apartment.
“I hope the metro is going to run tomorrow.”
Seattle Pacific University has two students in France, and both are OK, the school said late Friday.
The French in Seattle
There are about 7,000 French nationals in Washington state, according to Jack Cowan, the French honorary consul in Seattle. Many live in the Seattle area and work in the tech industry.
Members of the French community plan to gather at La Parisienne in Belltown at noon Saturday, Cowan said. The French bakery is at 2507 Fourth Ave.
Delta Air Lines and Air France, which both offer direct flights from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, said Friday-evening flights to Paris were operating on schedule. An American Airlines flight from Seattle to Paris, connecting through Dallas, was canceled. A second American flight, connecting in Chicago, was delayed.
Daniel Chirot, a professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the UW’s Henry M. Jackson School, has just returned from a month in Paris. He has a cousin and other relatives in Paris, all of whom are safe, he said.
Chirot said he feared the attacks would be a boost for the right-wing party in France, the National Front, and could lead to closed borders between countries and a change in the political dynamic across Europe.
“The unfortunate thing — there are many unfortunate things, on top of the immigration crisis and the financial problems — is that the European Union is in serious danger of just breaking down,” he said.
Chirot said France is vulnerable to terrorist attacks because it is one of the few European countries that have participated in wars in the Middle East. About 7 percent of the French population is Muslim, and officials in France have said they believe about 1,500 French Muslims have joined the Islamic State group in recent years, more than from any other European country except for Russia, he said.
He described Paris as an open city, with fewer security cameras than in London.
“The police presence is there, but they really can’t stop something like this,” he said. “It’s all a matter of intelligence, really.”