Aurélia Gilbert, a 48-year-old mother of two, is an IT manager for an industrial corporation. She was present at the concert by US rock band Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan music hall in central Paris on the evening of November 13th 2015 when gunmen, acting in the name of the so-called Islamic State group, attacked the venue, killing 90 people. She describes herself as “having had the luck” of escaping physical harm that night, but was left with “profound” psychological effects on her personal and social life which continue to this day.
The carnage at the Bataclan music hall was the single most deadly attack among the series of shootings and suicide bombings in and around Paris that same November evening which claimed the lives of a total of 130 people. The trial of 20 individuals (six of them in absentia) accused of perpetrating or helping to carry out the killings opened last September and ended this week, with sentencing due to be pronounced on Wednesday evening.
Throughout the trial, Mediapart has been publishing the first-hand reactions from seven victims of the massacres, including Aurélia Gilbert, as they have taken part in, and followed, the court proceedings, their accounts presented as a personal “logbook” as the hearings unfolded. Here below, Aurélia Gilbert, in what is her final contribution, describes her difficulty in putting her emotions into words, and how finally testifying in court relieved her of “this burden that had lasted almost seven years”.
“When [Mediapart journalist] Matthieu Suc contacted me in the spring of 2021 to inform me about this project of a logbook, I was very keen. I admire and respect my ‘companions in misfortune’ who have joined the project. We had lots of converging, or totally diverging, opinions to share, firstly between ourselves and also, in great humility, with the readers of the logbook. Christophe, Georges, Nadine, Emmanuel, Jessica and Roman have shared their anxieties, their expectations, their feelings, their questionings. For my part, I wrote a first contribution with a lot more difficulty than I had reckoned on. Was it the apprehension about the trial, the ‘overflow’ of the media and news as the opening of the trial approached? I have no idea.
With plenty of goodwill (and kindly supported by Matthieu), I had several other ideas for my writings, which all came to a halt in front of my computer screen, with the cursor on my word processor flashing at the top of a hopelessly blank page. I was going through what I call a ‘refusing to jump the obstacle’. This equestrian metaphor imposed itself on me quite late, no doubt about last March. In horse-riding, the riders and their mounts encounter two problems.
A horse makes a refusal when it stops before an obstacle (suddenly) without the rider prompting it to do so. The horse refuses to go and jump over the obstacle.
A runout means that the horse avoids the obstacle by running around it instead of jumping it. It can run around on the right or the left.
During these almost ten months of the trial, I did not often go the lawcourts (little free time with work, a family, and so on), but I listened, when possible, through the web radio [editor's note, live broadcast coverage of the trial, with a short time delay, available for victims and their families]. I read a lot (really a lot) of articles, including the excellent reports and analyses of the hearings by Matthieu and [Mediapart journalist] Karl Laske, and I followed most of the live tweets by journalists present in court.
On social media I reacted, questioned and discussed with victims, with lawyers, with journalists. I also discussed a great deal with my lawyer and their teams, about particular things during the hearings (witness testimonies, a piece of evidence, a statement by the prosecutors or the defence lawyers), or about the major stages of the trial. But it was impossible to write more than 35 words. All the more so for a larger audience, for those not ‘directly concerned’.
I alternated between the refusal and the runout. Fear of being gripped by the emotion of the moment, of being unable to take distance or to be pertinent. Each week brought its batch of themes, reactions, expectations and commentary. My last idea for a logbook entry was (it seems to me) still lagging behind, a train too late. So I ran around the obstacle, I promised Matthieu that it would be for the next time. I listened to the web radio and read the live tweets, found new questions, new ‘angles’. And so things kicked off again for another round…
I conceived in all this a form of guilt (that’s idiotic, but that’s how it was), having the feeling that I had given a commitment to the Mediapart teams. They, extremely benevolent, never held it against me, quite the opposite. There was no requirement made upon us, ever; we were entirely free. That they be thanked again for that here.
I would just like to share again how important it is to take to the stand to testify. On October 20th 2021, the presiding judge called out my name and I walked up the long, central alley of the courtroom, with its furnishings in light-coloured wood. I was hardly upbeat, my hand holding a few notes was trembling. Everything happened the way I had imagined, and as I recounted it in my first entry. Except for the emotion, the emotion of knowing my family was present, of seeing all around me the other civil parties [plaintiffs] some of who I now consider to be my friends, of seeing the journalists, whose faces and first names I now know. Of seeing the black robes of the lawyers for the civil parties and the defence, and seeing the public prosecutors. And the court. Believe me, it is bloody impressive being in a specially composed courtroom.
And so I ‘testified’ before the court. In the literal sense. I was ‘brief and factual, because that’s my character’ as I pointed out, thinking I should say so. An assessor for the presiding judge asked me a few questions, which I hadn’t been expecting. I made a joke aimed at one of the public prosecutors, which made him smile. Then I left the stand, I went back along the long alley, as if in a fog. I listened to the following testimony, then I joined my family and friends from among the civil parties on the steps of the courtroom buildings. A huge feeling of relief swept over me. Tonnes of weight were lifted from my shoulders. Just like many victims and the close entourage of victims have described it, with my testimony I had set down, before the court, this burden that had lasted almost seven years. Very definitely, that afternoon a page had turned for me.
What can be said in a few lines on my feelings about the trial? For me, the three public prosecutors had carried out admirable work. The defence lawyers were an honour to their profession and their oath. The court had been studious and attentive, and very benevolent towards the civil parties. The witnesses were (almost always…) pertinent. The civil parties gave their testimony with courage, anger, resilience and despair – in short, in all their diversity; that will remain an important moment of this trial. But I don’t forget that above all it was the trial of 20 people (of who 14 were present). It is ‘their’ trial. Not ‘mine’.
Today [June 27th], the accused have given their final statements […] On the evening of Wednesday, June 29th, the verdicts will be pronounced. No doubt, very heavy sentences will be handed down. There will probably be appeals filed [against them], given the gap between the prosecutors’ requests and the defence pleas.
So perhaps, when a future, second trial [on appeal] approaches, Matthieu Suc, bearing no grudge, will contact me. We’ll go and have a beer and he will tease me about refusing the obstacle. I will explain to him the causes of this in equitation: a loss of balance, the rider’s lack of confidence, the rhythm of the galop, the upright form of the obstacle…I will remind him that I finally ended up handing him that awaited ‘next’ entry, which is no doubt the last by me in this logbook series. And that the round of drinks is on him.”
- The original French version of this first-person account can be found here.
English version by Graham Tearse