It was supposed to be a family dinner at a neighborhood restaurant on Rue Charonne.
Jean Pierre’s voice breaks as he tells PEOPLE, “I’ll never forget … Never understand what I saw.”
A dentist who has worked in hospitals, Jean Pierre (whose last name is being withheld per his request) was taking his son and daughter – who work in the US – to dinner at a restaurant next to La Belle Equipe and were just arriving inside when:
“BOOM. BOOM. BOOM,” he says. “There were shots coming in all directions. We ran to the back of the restaurant. Everyone took cover in the back on the floor.”
His voice breaks. He cries. The emotion, frustration, lack of understanding overcomes him as he recalls scenes which took 19 lives in one of the six separate terrorist attacks which struck Paris. (As of Saturday morning, French outlets were reporting that there are at least 128 dead in total.)
“What I saw,” he says, “was absolute carnage.”
When the gunfire – which lasted minutes – was over, Jean Pierre’s son cried “They need help” and both men moved forward into street. “There was crying and screaming.
“I saw people die. I saw people die,” he repeats. “I had people die in my arms. There wasn’t anything you could do to help them.”
“I’ve worked in hospitals. Last evening, I saw people. Children,” he corrects himself. “Children, kids, 17-18 years old. There was a dozen, nearly two dozen dead. Dead and dying.
“I took one in my arms, held her telling her ‘Don’t move. Don’t move. I’ve worked in hospitals, been trained in wounds and spent my life as a dentist working with blood and wounds,’ ” he explains. “‘I know what has to be done, what you have to do. You have to stay with them, keep them with you.’ But there wasn’t anything you could do.
Police and emergency responders arrived within ten minutes, he says. “Or even less. And they had control of the scene within a half hour. Everything was secured and I went into the restaurant. I can never forget what I saw. When you are in a situation like this, you only see what is in front of you. When the people were running last night from the Bataclan, they only saw what was in front of them.
“You don’t see what is left behind you,” he continues. “I went into the restaurant and I can never forget what I saw. I will never understand, never comprehend what I saw. I can’t. I saw people seated in the restaurant. Dead.
“Some were holding onto a glass. Others were slumped forward on the tables, like they were sleeping.”
“I have medical training. I’ve spent my life accustomed to blood, to wounds; But …”
At the moment of the attack, he recalls a bus on the street, “There were people trapped on it, screaming at the driver to ‘Go Ahead! Get us out of here.’ The driver refused to move, refused to go forward [which would have called] attention to their presence.
“For me, he saved his passengers lives by refusing to advance. For me, the driver was a hero.”