Paris, Le Bataclan, November 2015
Tony Scott and Justine Merton are two normal people who found themselves trapped in a nightmare situation as the terrorists struck. They had to flee from Le Bataclan in total terror as senseless violence machine-gunned down concert goers.
They want to tell their story of that nightmare but more importantly they want to leave a positive message to all people, in a world that is coming apart at the seams.
“The people who turn this event into hate – it desecrates the memory of those that died that night in Paris. To use this as the fuel of hatred against any group is abhorrent.
Tony: “We were fleeing from the same kind of gunmen that night at Le Bataclan as the refugees have to as well. When we got out of the venue and onto the roof this stranger let 30 of us who were trapped on the roof into his home . We were all crammed into his flat next to the venue. These were 30 people that he had never met before and in a sense at that moment we were refugees. We were escaping from the same gunmen that the refugees coming into Europe are.
“That night in Paris was a crime against all sorts of people – muslims were also getting caught up in it. For people to jump on this and turn this into a backlash of hate against the muslim community is just so wrong. They are as afraid of this as we are. It’s not isolated to any particular culture, race or religion.”
Music lovers just like you reader, Tony and Justine were caught in the crossfire of Le Bataclan but somehow escaped in a night that saw the best and worst of humanity.
Justine: “We saw the worst but we also saw the best of humanity that night. We saw more of that love and compassion and selflessness than we did of hatred.
“They were a few men who caused an awful lot of damage but the death and destruction caused by eight or nine people was opposed by the hundreds of people who were showing love and compassion that night.
“I think in some ways, for me, that’s what we want celebrate – that love and compassion that people were showing to strangers and the fact that this guy, a stranger, opened his door to us and others and hid us from the gunmen.
“That’s the message we want heard and not to blame refugees as it hasn’t been proved that any of the terrorists came through Syria posing as refugees. Most of them are home grown now. A lot of these acts are by people from Belgium not Syria.”
We are living in dangerous times.
A swirling madness seems to be engulfing the world where good and bad forces ebb and flow. Too many voices are choked with anger and hatred and it’s refreshing to hear Justine and Tony speak. They went through hell but want to talk about love and compassion.
We need to hear more of these voices.
Last week in Paris 130 people were murdered by terrorists driven by a twisted vision of a religion. It’s been going on for years and every day it seems like somewhere in the world a senseless killing occurs, caused by all ideologies, but suddenly it felt like the guns and bullets and madness had burst into our front rooms.
The attack at Le Bataclan at the Eagles Of Death Metal gig was an attack at the heart of our music community. It doesn’t mean the deaths and the pain are worth any more or less than people slaughtered in Nigeria or blown up in Tunisia; it just makes it feel closer.
The concert hall was full of people like you or me, like all readers of this site, whose lives went in a split second from the euphoric celebration provided by music to the carnage and mind-numbing stupidity of guns and terrorism.
Two of our community, Tony and Justine, were at the concert and caught in the middle of the fear and bloodshed. They want their story to be more than just a lucky escape from the psychotic madness. It is a plea for sanity, a plea for the goodness that is still a major force. They don’t want the backlash and the hate that the Murdochs and the governments are stirring up.
This is an important message.
They are not armchair generals but real people caught up in a lunatic situation and like everybody at the gig that survived they want love and not hate to be the real victor.
Their story is powerful and emotional. One of the most moving interviews I’ve ever done and an example of how remarkable and resilient people can be when their lives are suddenly confronted by madness and how untainted the real spirit of humanity can be when confronted by the worst.
LTW: Were you already in Paris and the gig was happening by chance?
Tony: Actually we specifically went for the Eagles Of Death Metal gig. It was a birthday present from Justine.
Justine: I meant to buy him a memorable present but what happened wasn’t quite what I had in mind!
Tony: We go to many gigs. It’s what we love. We met at a Cribs gig. We like the same things. We like the same music. We go and see bands whenever we can really. For something like this to happen is pretty shocking really. This sort of thing can impact on a way of life.
LTW: Which is what the terrorists are attempting to do…
LTW: Was this your first time at a gig in Paris at Le Bataclan?
Justine: It was for me.
Tony: And for me as well. We flew in on the Friday. The idea was to go to the gig on the Friday and then spend a couple of days doing the tourist stuff and then come home on the Sunday.
Justine: We got to the hotel at three in the afternoon and it was not far from Le Bataclan.
Tony: We did the usual thing, we had a bit of lunch and then wandered back to the hotel to head out in the evening, when we went for a couple of drinks and then turned up at the gig.
LTW: Le Bataclan is a really symbolic, famous, old Parisian venue…
Justine: It’s a beautiful venue.
Tony: It’s really stunning and has that really nice vibe of old venues about it. We are used to those O2 black box things and this was very different. It kind of reminded me of the Albert Hall in Manchester – that sort of something special when you get in there and a real atmosphere to it.
LTW: These old theatres are great for rock gigs. Did you get in there early?
Justine: We got there at half past eight. That was part of the reason we ended up on the balcony. Usually we are down the front but it was already rammed and because I’m a short arse – I’m only five feet tall – we decided to go onto the balcony so I could see something of the gig. So for once being short was a good thing!
LTW: It’s weird how random all this can be…
Tony: I was going to say that! Only minutes before it all kicked off Justine had gone to the bar and the timing could have been a whole lot different. It’s scary to think one little decision, one little timing out and we could have been in a very different place on Friday night. Especially having read the accounts of people there. It feels like not only did we get away with our lives, we got away with a whole lot of trauma as well. We were not the people on the floor hiding under dead bodies. We read a report of someone caught on the balcony that went the wrong way and were cornered by the terrorists and were taken hostage. We are so thankful that we took the decisions that we took at the time we took them. There is no other way of saying it. We were incredibly lucky.
LTW: What was the atmosphere before the gig like?
Tony: If you have ever seen the Eagles Of Death Metal you will know that they are a good party band. If you want entertainment and good music then they cater perfectly for that. We like music from all sorts of genres and the Eagles Of Death Metal are a fun band to watch and party to really.
Justine: They work the crowd really well and everyone was in a good mood. It was Friday night in Paris!
Tony: What could be better?
LTW: It sounds magical…
Justine: Then about 45 minutes into the set, at about a quarter to ten it kicked off. The reason I know that time was that at the side of the stage they had a clock that was counting down to curfew time. So I remember working out the curfew must have been half past ten. I looked at that a couple of minutes before everything kicked off so it must have been a quarter to ten when the first shots rang out.
LTW: What was initial reaction? Did anyone have a clue what was happening?
Tony: There was banging noises and I thought could it be some effects going off…
Justine: It felt like it was somehow part of the show.
LTW: Did it register that it was gunfire?
Justine: It didn’t register so the brain was trying to make sense of it.
LTW: Was it louder than the band?
Justine: It was really loud. It sounded like it was from below the balcony, which would make sense. It was from the back of the hall – a couple of shots and then a couple more in quick succession.
Tony: It was not really shots – more like bursts of gunfire. There was no mistaking it once you realised what it was – like an automatic weapon like in the movies, which was the only frame of reference unless you’ve served time in the forces.
LTW: I’m amazed that people realised what it was, even after a minute, when they were not expecting it.
Justine: I saw the band start to run and then I saw people at the front of the crowd start to basically run and pile toward the exits. And then I knew.
LTW: Was it all pretty quick?
Tony: It was seconds. There was more gunfire. Justine saw more of it than I did. I then shouted get down. The reaction time between the two of us was enough that I can remember gunshots, lights going up and then hitting the deck. I don’t have a visual of the panic really just the reactions taking over.
Justine: Because the initial shots were from beneath the balcony by the time the main body of the hall was in the crossfire we were down on the deck keeping or heads down, keeping out of sight.
Tony: We were cuddled together under the seats saying ‘keep down, keep low….’
Justine: We were there for five minutes, which felt like eternity, and the shots kept coming. Perhaps there would be a few seconds whilst they reloaded and then the shots kept coming. I said to Tony – who was saying, ‘stay low, keep quiet,’ I said ‘we have got to get out of here.’ It just seemed to me they were going to keep shooting and all they needed to do was come up the stairs and we would be sitting targets so we had to get out somehow.
LTW: These are sudden big life choices to be making minutes after being at a normal gig.
Tony: What we ended up doing was we literally crawled out on our bellies between the rows of seats behind the back row.
Justine: There were exits kind just behind us really. They were where we had come in but they obviously led back down to where the shooting was.
Tony: And there was a door at the stage end, right up in the balcony in the corner that we saw…
Justine: We were at the back of the balcony.
Tony: People on the balcony were starting to head towards that door and we were crawling along behind the seats to get to the exit. There were gaps between the rows of the seats and you felt really vulnerable going past them, really exposed as the gunfire was still going on. There were people at the door and they were opening it and waving to us through it. It was a leap of faith really to get from being in the seats to that door…
Justine: What you didn’t know is are the terrorists coming up the stairs behind you or what really.
LTW: The people waving at you through the door, were they other punters at the gig?
Justine: They were just punters who had gone through the door. They opened the door a fraction because they didn’t want to attract attention and we managed to get through that door and into a stairwell and there was a lot of people in the stairwell…
Tony: All I could remember was there was a couple of steps and up there was skylight – a big massive sort of square skylight which must have had a grate covering it. Somebody, some people ahead of us, had managed to get this grate down and it must have been hinged on one side and that was our only escape. It was quite high up really. Justine is five feet tall and couldn’t reach so people had to lift her and get her to grab hold of the grate to haul herself up with brute strength to get to the top of it and out onto the roof. There were people at the top helping people over the lip of it and onto the roof.
LTW: What was feeling at the time? Was it fear? Or a weird logical calm?
Tony: It was a bit of both really. When we made the decision to move to the door it was a snap decision. Justine said ‘we have got to get out of here right now,’ and it was a case of lets do it and then we were lying stomach down across these chairs with the gunfire going on wriggling along. We really thought we were going to die. I have an 11-year-old daughter and I was texting my ex just to say ‘look this is going if I don’t get out alive tell her how much I love her’. It was that final moment feeling really.
Justine: If you asked me before I would have said I would have panicked in a situation like this but luckily we didn’t. I think it helped that we were together, both of us would have panicked if we had been separated.
Tony: We kept each other calm to a certain degree. If one wasn’t capable of making decision the other one was. We balanced each other out like that really.
LTW: What about the response from other people. It seemed remarkably organised and calm.
Tony: There were about 30 people in the stairwell and we were all acutely aware if the terrorists came up and opened that door then we were like fish in a barrel, just there to shoot. We were all keeping quiet. One girl was silently shaking and crying and we were all kind of patting her and whispering to her that it will be ok and she got hauled up quickly on to the roof. When we got through the skylight and out onto the roof we were kind of at the back of Le Bataclan and we ran across the roof to the front of building. There was people yelling ‘get out, get out’ and you are in two minds where to go. When you get to the top and on to the roof you do not know quite what to do. It’s like you got through one hurdle. Whats next? You almost need someone to give you direction. And then some chap opened a window in an apartment on the roof. There was like an apartment as part of the roof and if you google an image of Le Bataclan you can see it there.
Justine: There was a small round window at the top of the building where this apartment was.
Tony: That was someone’s apartment and it turns out the guy who owned the apartment was getting everyone in there. I presume he wasn’t at the gig and regardless of that he let 20/30 people, strangers, into his home that evening and that was remarkable. Your basic instinct if you were him would be when you heard the shooting to lie low, turn out the lights and it’s like ‘I’m not in here and hope they don’t discover me’ but he found the time to let 30 strangers into his home. You just don’t know whether they will bring the gunmen in with them, into your apartment, and it’s much harder to keep 30 people silent than just yourself. He did it at considerable risk to himself. That was an incredible example of compassion and humanity.
LTW: These situations see humanity at its worst and the best…
Justine: Absolutely. It’s like the people who broke the skylight – they didn’t jump out and run off, they waited, they helped people like me who couldn’t reach up there. I had to use all my muscles to get up there and they hoisted me up. People were amazing really.
Tony: We got to the apartment and people were giving each other hugs and were in tears. You can imagine the emotions running through everyone. When you don’t speak French there is also a language barrier and we really didn’t know what was going on and people were translating. Then we were holed up in the apartment for three hours. You could still hear gunshots raining and there were explosions going off in the whole building. We were sat against the wall underneath that round window you can see on the front. We were crouched down behind there and you could feel the building vibrate with the explosions that went off and the gunfire still going on. There was a period of half an hour when it started to go quieter and you could feel your guard go down start to relax a little and think we are going to be alright and then all of a sudden the automatic fire started going off again.
Justine: At one point I said, because we are getting married in March, I said you are not getting out of marrying me that easily…
LTW: The great stoic British sense of humour!
Tony: Yes! We were joking that the pair of us got carpet burns on our arms for all the wrong reasons!
LTW: Were you following the situation on Facebook in the flat?
Justine: A few people had phones and were following it.
Tony: Facebook was invaluable for keeping our friends aware of what was going on.
Justine: I got a text from my sister. I think there had been a delay in the news. When we were getting messages from people saying ‘my God this has just happened’ it was 30 minutes after it had happened. My sister knew we were at Le Bataclan and she saw this come up on the TV and stuff and obviously she was panicking and trying to get hold of us to see what was going on. A lot of people were using social media to let friends know that we were ok and in hiding and we were saying, ‘don’t worry, we will be alright!
Tony: We were also getting messages of support from people while we were up there.
LTW: Just hang in there…
Tony: Yeah. Exactly. You know it’s kind of that odd thing that people caught up in it from the messages you get they assume you got out somewhere.
Justine: We were saying we are safe (laughs)
LTW: How were the other people in the flat ?
Justine: It varied between complete silence and people getting relaxed and starting to whisper, and everyone going ‘shhhh’
Tony: A lot of people saying keep quiet, keep down. We didn’t know who was out there. We suspected people were out on the roof and we didn’t know who it was. If it was terrorists or armed police.
Justine: We knew we were not far away from the gunmen, but I kept saying it’s fine they will be police…It sounded a lot closer and then other times a lot further away. There was more shooting . We were then aware that the police had arrived but there was no way of knowing what the shooting was. At some point you could see towards the end of the whole thing. You could see the lazers of an automatic rifle raking past the windows of the apartment but there was no way of knowing if that was the armed police on the roof or the terrorists.
Tony: It was hard to know if it was the good guys or the bad guys. That skylight had been our escape but what was on my mind was, what if the gunmen get cornered? Will they come out the same way as we had come out and onto the roof? All those different scenarios were just running through your head. Even when the police did arrive and they were firing at the wall and the door or something and still we didn’t know who it was properly.
Justine: Everyone jumped a mile when the knock came.
LTW: It could have gone two very opposite ways.
Tony: When we found out it was the police we were so sincerely thankful.
Justine: I’ve never been so pleased to see a man with a gun in my life!
Tony: It’s such a strange juxtaposition fleeing men with guns and then these guys turn up with guns and you felt safe!
Justine: Again it was a bit like being in the movies with all these men all in black masks on – all a bit surreal. You expect Bruce Willis to come in with them…
LTW: These hardcore police units now look like Robocop or Judge Dredd.
Tony: We didn’t know what they were saying either because they were speaking in French.
Justine: My third year French GCSE doesn’t cover these incidents! Asking for single room in a hotel doesn’t cover it!
Tony: There was one of the guys sat next to us in the apartment. He realised we were English and was translating what the police said.
Justine: There was a ten minute conversation between the police outside the door and someone inside. Obviously we wanted to establish that they were the police and the police still didn’t know for sure if we were being held hostage or if the gunmen were in there with us. Obviously there were still gunmen in the building and the police didn’t know when they came in to Le Bataclan if they were in there with us. When the police came in we had to stay low and have our hands on our heads or showing so we didn’t get shot.
Tony: We were all escorted out one at a time. Basically you had a gun trained on you whilst you lifted your shirt up to show that there were no explosives there and then you were allowed out of there and escorted back out through the window.
Justine: The same window that we had come though.
Tony: Then we went down the roof to another window that led us into some offices. There had obviously, from reading reports, been people holed up in there and there was broken glass and blood on the walls in the offices and then down to the balcony and then we heard four or five firemen tell us that we were going to be taken down on these ladders.
Justine: They couldn’t lead us back through the building really. It was full of bodies that were still there and that was not the kind of thing they wanted you to see when they took you down through there so that was why took us down the ladders.
Tony: Even coming down with the ladders you could see the blood and a couple of bodies on the floor. There was glass everywhere, a lot of blood again. Justine says it was almost that disconnect from it that you felt and when you retell the story it doesn’t feel right. It feels like we were watching it all on a movie and not actually there.
LTW: When they got you down what do they do? Do they take you to hospital?
Justine: They quickly got us out of that area and then they body searched us and then took us to a safe area round the corner. A lovely couple reopened their bar and were giving us all cups of tea.
Tony: We were shivering and someone came up and said here’s my coat, please put it on for a bit. The French people were just absolutely amazing really. So selfless. We were reading on twitter that there was this kind of open door offer in Paris where people could stay in people’s flats if they were out of town.
Justine: I was getting texts from a friend saying that if you are stuck then on twitter you can find somewhere to stay but as our hotel was literally across the road we went back there. It must have been about three in the morning time when we got back to the hotel.
LTW: Did that feel weird going back to a relative normality after the last five hours?
Justine: I think we got back to the hotel and we both still felt really afraid. They were saying they think they had caught the gunmen but there might still be some people at large.
Tony: It’s madness but we tried to barricade the flimsy hotel door.
Justine: I don’t know what the hell we thought that was going to do!
Tony: We were just frightened and we really didn’t sleep. We kind of lay on the bed and had ten minutes here and there.
LTW: Did you watch it on the TV when you got back to try and make sense of it all?
Justine: We didn’t immediately when we got back. We managed the next morning to see some of it. To go sight-seeing in Paris didn’t seem like an option any more and we flew back on Saturday afternoon rather than Sunday morning. We went straight to the airport and we spent seven hours at the airport.
Tony: At the airport we were on our phones looking at the coverage and the various news items coming through and starting to build a picture up of what had happened. It’s one thing being in there, when it’s happening you don’t really know what’s happening. We just wanted to know how it had happened and it was then that we started reading stories of the other people involved.
Justine: When we got home we heard other stories coming out and it’s then you hear about the people lying on the floor in that light pretending to be dead amongst the bodies. We got off lightly compared to that. That’s unthinkable. And there were other stories of actually people saying the gunmen were up on the balcony.
Tony: We had a bit of a wobble yesterday. We had been away for the weekend – Justine was on a course and her whole family went and we stayed at friends. While Justine was there she rang me up and said I shouldn’t look at the news because there was a story of a couple that were on the balcony where we were and they had turned right instead of left and had ended up getting taken hostage by the gunmen. According to the report the gunmen were looking for couples so they could send one out and hold the gun to other one’s head. All these things – they set you off again.
Justine: If we had been kidnapped it would have been very difficult because they were speaking in French and we would not understand a word of what they were saying so would they have had the patience to translate?
Tony: We were were so, so, so, so incredibly lucky.
Justine: When we left the balcony we just turned the right way. We made the right decision in terns of which way to get out. We made the move at the right time as well. We got off the balcony before the gunmen came up. It’s just panic. It’s luck in a sense. Those decisions – there wasn’t a lot of thoughts like I’m not turning right because that will take us to the gunmen. The option of going to the stairs was there and I think this was fast but we might come face-to-face with the gunman if they had come up and run into the gunmen coming up on their side of the balcony.
LTW: Each decision is a split second.
Tony: Justine said this before but we kind of feel a bit of a fraud. We had a lucky escape. All we can kind of think of is the people that were, you know, not so lucky – even the people who got out of this and have the trauma of years to come and the families of the people who died doing what they love like what we do, which is going to gigs. The guy who wrote that great piece about his wife being shot there and that leaves you in floods of tears. That ruined his family and it’s such a strong thing to put those words down. Luckily we are intact and we still have our loved ones. We have still got us and it could have been such a different story.
Justine: That was one of the amazing things for us. All of the stories or messages that have come out from most people who have survived have been messages of kind of hope and love rather than hatred. I don’t think I have heard anything yet where people haven’t been saying we don’t want people to hate. This shouldn’t stop us taking in refugees or make people hate muslims. All the messages I’ve seen from people have been about that – trying to be positive.
Tony: Neither of us feels any hate. We just felt the love of the people of Paris and for three hours we had a small glimpse into what the refugees have been fleeing from on a daily basis.
Justine: Except we were able to get out of there.
Tony: And so if we can’t reach out to these people, these refugees, then what kind of people are we really?
Justine: It’s the same guns and bullets that they are running from. The refugees did what we did – they ran for their lives. That guy who let us into his flat, it could have ended differently if that guy in the apartment had not opened his window and let the 30 strangers stay in there.
LTW: In a sense you were refugees…
Justine: If it hadn’t been for his compassion we could be dead and he did it at considerable risk to himself.
LTW: The 31st person into the apartment could have been a gunman.
Tony: It’s just the incredible resolve to do that. You go to a rock concert, or any kind of concert, and it’s like a football match but you are all with one team, (laughs). It just happens to be on the stage and everyone is in front of the stage and that’s one of nice things about gigs. It’s that communal feeling. That feeling of unity.
LTW: Which is why the terrorists hate it – they hate unity.
Tony: And we have to have resolve to carry on
Justine: We’ve got tickets to see Faithless in a couple of weeks, then Ash, and then Frankie and the Heartstrings, and then The Charlatans.
Tony: We are apprehensive but we have to get back in, got to get back on the horse.
LTW: We can’t let these people control our lives.
Justine: We stood more chance statistically of getting killed today when we were driving back from the midlands on the motorway at night in a car. That’s far more dangerous and it doesn’t stop us.
LTW: What would your message be to the Eagles Of Death Metal?
Tony: I don’t know how the band must feel. We have got friends in bands. We kind of know a couple of the guys from the Heartstrings and this is their job, their livelihood. For the Eagles Of Death Metal, I sincerely hope they set foot on stage again. I hope they have the same resolve but it must be ten times more terrifying for them to do that as they must feel like the target for this to a certain degree.
Justine: I think feelings are not a rational thing. I hope they don’t have an irrational feeling of guilt that somehow the people would not have been there if it wasn’t for us kind of thing. It could have been any band that night to be honest.
LTW: I can’t imagine the terrorists having much knowledge of rock music.
Justine: I think the iconic nature of Le Bataclan venue may have been a factor as well.
Tony: I really hope that the band can find their way through it in the same way we all find our way through it and resolve not to not be intimidated by it. There is more good out there than bad and the chances of this happening in the grand scale of things is pretty slim. We all have to carry on with our lives.
LTW: Have you been in touch with anyone from the gig?
Tony: Yeah one guy. Originally we had a lot of requests for interviews and we were not going to do any. It’s not our kind of thing and we had a request from the Victoria Derbyshire programme and we sort of ignored it. We found ourselves tuned into it though on the Tuesday morning after we had been watching the news in the morning and her programme follows the news. There was a guest on there and he was telling his story and the whole thing was handled with real compassion that we felt that if we do anything we would do that and after the show had been on I also reached out to everyone on Facebook to say just to let you know if it helps stay in touch with us.
Justine: I think some of it has not hit us yet to be honest. It could be a few weeks, a few months, before that hits. It’s important for us to get the positive message out. I find it really upsetting and it makes me really angry to read that already the hate crimes against muslims have gone up and the debate about hanging people has started or people wanting to help refugees has decreased and that makes me feel really angry.
Tony: And on top of that idiots like Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch are spouting out bullshit and it’s not helpful really. Twisting public perception and that’s wrong. People are genuinely, more often than not, compassionate and the media are trying to turn to turn that compassion into hate and that’s wrong.
Justine: Diversity is something to celebrate and rejoice in.
Tony: The media and the terrorists are trying to divide people into two camps and we are not two camps. We are one camp. We are at one with all our community – like it or not. We are a multicultural society. It’s not the Great Britain of the past. It’s different. We are a different country now and we have to celebrate and embrace that.