Friday, September 17, 2021

PSUC senior witness to Paris attack

The last thing someone expects when they travel to a big city in another country is for that city to be attacked by ISIS.

However, that is exactly what happened to Mackenzie Thurston, a Plattsburgh State senior majoring in Human Development and Family Relations.

She and 11 other students from her program studied abroad in Spain and traveled to Paris for the weekend. She said that only two other people were with her at the time the attacks took place.

The first explosion — a suicide bomber, soon followed by another — rocked the air outside Stade de France, a Parisian stadium, according to CNN, with subsequent attacks, from Friday, Nov. 13 at 9:20 p.m. to Saturday, Nov. 14, at 12:20 p.m.

On Friday at 9:40 p.m., there were simultaneous attacks in two different locations. There was a suicide bombing at Comptoir Voltaire, a restaurant in Paris’ 11th district, and an attack by three gunmen at the concert venue Bataclan.

At Bataclan, a hostage situation took place, and 89 people were killed at the venue.

Thurston said she and her group were in their hostel during that time.

“We had other friends in Paris who messaged us and warned us about the shootings,” Thurston said by email. “We made sure to try to account for all of our friends where there were 12 of us that we knew of in the cities who were all in different groups.”

Thurston said she and others with whom she traveled were not outside, close to the action. However, they watched as everyone learned about the tragedy.

“You could see the difference in the atmosphere,” Thurston said. “You always think this could never happen to you; the atmosphere where no one knew what to do, you had no idea what to feel; at times, you were scared out of your mind.

“Other times, you were being strong, then you were mad, and then you also wanted to cry.”

Thurston said it was “weirdly normal” in Paris the morning after the devastating attack, when people carried on performing their usual errands, going to bakeries, restaurants and grocery stores as if it was business as usual, but a nervous tension hung in the air.

“You could feel everyone on edge,” she wrote.

Once Thurston and her friends discovered everyone in their group was safe, they contacted their families. They heard the borders had closed, and they contacted the University of Spain, where she studied, and the U.S. Embassy. They were instructed to stay inside until they left. Thurston said her flights were not interrupted as a result of the attack.

Despite the tragedies in Paris, Thurston said that her study-abroad experience hasn’t been tainted, but it has changed her view of security in large cities.

“I’m much more vigilant now,” she said. “It’s still a wonderful experience, and I recommend everyone to do it.”

Certain memories of the attacks, however, stick with her.

“The thing I will never forget about that night was the sirens all night long, but if you really think about it, that’s all of the people helping. It was only eight people who wreaked havoc, but the countless people are so much more,” she said. “There is a lot more good than bad in this world.”

She said that the experience made her miss her home state of Vermont; however, she will not let terrorism scare her into changing her plans.

“I will not cut my once-in-a-lifetime trip short because of ISIS,” she said.

She said she will be happy to put that weekend in the past.

“I will never forget that weekend, but I’m not ready to relive it again,” Thurston said. “To know you are in danger and you don’t have anything to do about it, that’s something you will never forget.”

Email Tim Lyman at

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