The killers were quiet, calm. Jerome Lorenzi decided he had to be the same.
As he lay on the floor of the darkened concert hall, he held himself as still as possible – not just to avoid attracting the gunmen’s notice, but also to meet death with equanimity if he did.
“You don’t move. You’re just waiting for your turn,” he said Saturday. “I thought, you are going to die, just be as relaxed as you can. Don’t be sad this is the end.”
Other concertgoers were sprawled on the ground around him. Some were already dead. At times, it was silent enough he could hear the clicks of automatic rifles being methodically reloaded. At other moments, he heard the pleading.
“Please, please! Stop! Stop!”
They were among the first to escape the site of greatest carnage in the astonishing string of shootings and bombings that hit Paris on a chilly Friday night. As many as 89 people were killed by three well-armed terrorists inside the Bataclan concert hall, their blood-soaked bodies a terrible sight for those who survived the siege and for the police officers who stormed the building to end it.
The hall is a popular venue in a hopping neighborhood of Paris. On Friday, the headline act was a band from Southern California, Eagles of Death Metal, which commanded enough of a following in the French capital that the concert hall was full.
That made it a rich target for what French authorities say was a trio of militants who pulled up to the Bataclan in a black car after some of their fellow attackers carried out mass shootings at bars and restaurants only a few minutes’ drive away.
At Le Carillon, on a busy corner where 15 people were gunned down in two facing cafes, Jose Lopes Gomes dropped by earlier Friday evening but left, he said, because his usual companion didn’t show up. He was in a nearby establishment when he heard gunshots about 9:30 p.m.
“It was like ‘boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.’ Then it finished,” he said. “I saw the gunmen in the street. There were two in the car and a third man walked over and got in. They had Kalashnikovs in their hand, and they didn’t run. They walked and seemed calm.”
Inside the Bataclan, Lorenzi and his friend Nadir, who asked to be identified only by his first name, stood at the back of the theater with some of their other pals, close to the bar. The band was well into its set when the sound of what the friends thought were fireworks rang out.
He had his face turned to the ground, but once or twice he turned his head a little to try to sneak a look at what was happening. He saw two gunmen, and was struck by their cool, collected manner.
“One of them was coming [in] our direction. I can’t describe his face … but I can say that he was very quiet, like, sure of what he’s doing, sure of himself,” Nadir said.
Some survivors said the gunmen shouted “God is great!” in Arabic as they began firing. A woman named Celia told Le Figaro newspaper that another attacker said, “You killed our brothers in Syria. We’re here now.”
Celia said two of the militants were dressed all in black. All looked Middle Eastern but spoke French without an accent.
“They loaded and reloaded their guns. It was a nonstop shooting. One of them said, ‘The first one who moves their ass, I’ll kill.’”
Added Celia’s partner, Benjamin: “A body fell on me, and blood was pouring across my legs. A woman near me, her face was all bloody, but she was alive. A guy next to me, about 50 years old, got shot in the head right in front of me. Bursts of his brain and flesh hit my glasses. I heard bullets flying.”
All Nadir could think of as he lay on the theater floor was his 8-month-old daughter.
For Lorenzi, it was the image of his father, who died three years ago.
Time was suddenly made of such warped fabric that neither of the two buddies could say for sure how long they remained trapped there. Nadir thinks it was 10 to 15 minutes; Lorenzi says three.
Finally, someone shouted that the gunmen had gone to the upstairs gallery. Lorenzi helped one of his friends, who had been shot in the hip, get to his feet and over to the emergency exit.
In video footage captured by a French journalist who lives behind the Bataclan, terrified concertgoers can be seen pouring out the side exit, running around at least one body on the ground just outside the door as gunshots ring out.
Several people drag apparently injured victims down the alley away from the venue, while other people appear to be hanging off the side of the building, in an apparent attempt to escape the upper floor.
Nadir wound up separating from his friends as he ran as hard as he could, bolting down into a Metro station to get away as fast as possible. In the subway, he was suddenly in a surreal world, among laughing, happy passengers enjoying a Friday night out, completely unaware of the slaughter going on above.
Lorenzi made it into a nearby storefront where other victims had gathered and where some of the wounded began to be treated by people with medical knowledge.
Lorenzi, who works as a currency trader, is 42. Since he was 8, he said, he has occasionally had the same frightening dream in which he’s inside a store being held up by armed robbers, the bullets flying. Each time, he would wake up when, in his dream, he heard the noise of the trigger.
Now, “I’ve felt the experience to have seen your own nightmare,” he said of his ordeal, adding: “I’m going to see a psychiatrist tomorrow.”
Times staff writers Michael Finnegan and Julie Westfall in Los Angeles, and special corresondent Christina Boyle in Paris, contributed to this story.
Follow @henryhchu on Twitter.