Caitlyn Bordon, a senior at Millersville University, thought she was hearing firecrackers or distant thunder, but it would turn out to be a far more ominous sound.
The international studies major and several other Millersville students were at the soccer stadium in Paris the night the terrorists struck last week.
Local universities have reported students studying abroad are safe.
Millersville has seven students studying at the American Business School of Paris.
Bordon, who is spending the year studying there, was at the Stade de France for the match between France and Germany.
After they were blocked from entering the stadium, suicide bombers detonated their explosive vests outside.
“Around fifteen minutes into the game, we heard a really loud blast,” Bordon said via a video interview. “Everybody heard it and commented on it. Being a football match, I thought probably it’s fireworks or something. And then a couple minutes later, we heard another one.”
The 21-year-old says no one moved to leave, and the game continued and ran its full time.
Bordon says many students were in attendance because an entire exchange program was there with students from different schools.
Once the game ended things started to get chaotic. All the exchange students left the stadium as a group and still didn’t know anything was amiss. That’s when Bordon and two other students realized a friend was missing and went to look for her.
“Without thinking, we just broke away,” she said. “In a few minutes, the crowd started to change. It was hard to tell if it was just regular crowd chaos of 80,000 people in stadium or if there was something more.”
A swarm of people started running towards her and her friends, and Bordon says she learned of the attacks as they ran.
“There was definitely a feeling of panic. People on their phones. Then we started to realize how many emergency vehicles there were, tons of emergency vehicles, policemen, army with guns, helicopters with spotlights.”
She worried about her missing friend and the larger exchange group who had been walking in the direction from which the swarm had just come.
Bordon says they decided to head back towards the city, hoping their friend and the group had done the same.
She still doubted what was going on when she stopped in a cafe that had on the news.
“It was talking about 40 people dead at the Bataclan Theatre. I was like, ‘Wait, the Bataclan is in my district. That’s in my neighborhood. I was just there.’ Are there two attacks happening at the same time? I don’t understand.”
She figured she just wasn’t grasping the French correctly.
“The streets were like eerily, eerily quiet. France is never quiet on a Friday night and there were no people around. We went to the largest train stop in Paris called Gare du Nord, and there were no people and it was closed. It was just really bizarre.”
The Lancaster native was confused and unsure what to do.
“I didn’t know if going home would mean I was walking towards danger because I live right near Le Petit Cambodge, Le Carillon [both attacked] and the Bataclan. They’re all in my neighborhood. I didn’t know if going home would be dangerous or safe but I was like, ‘I just need to be with my host family.'”
Bordon made it home around 1 a.m.
“It wasn’t until I got on Skype with my family that I understood the extent of what had happened.”
She lives next to a playground that’s constantly filled with children and says one of the most striking things for her was waking up the next morning to silence instead of the shouts of children.
But two days after the attacks, she threw open her window and heard the sounds of people.
“It was just so relieving to hear people going about their everyday activities and kids playing basketball. Okay, so life is going to be normal-ish again.”
Olivia Cordero, assistant director of the Office of Global Education & Partnerships at Millersville, says students were shaken up and shocked, but they’re handling the situation maturely.
“They’re thinking things through very logically,” she said. “They’re understanding what’s going on. I have not seen them reacting in panic to us about requesting to immediately come home. And they’re handling and they’re coping along with the city of Paris.”
She says part of that is students feel a part of the City of Light.
“They’ve been there for a number of months. So, this is their home away from home at this point. Obviously they’re looking at it from that perspective and not just as an outsider.”
Classes have resumed under extra security. Exams were cancelled this week, and counseling services have been provided.
Cordero is thankful the attackers were stopped before they entered the stadium.
“If not, we could have had a very different situation on our hands at that location.”
The coordinated attacks claimed the life an American student studying abroad, Nohemi Gonzalez from California State University, Long Beach.
Cordero is proud of how the students and their families have managed.
“This is something we don’t go over in pre-departure orientation necessarily — how to react in a terrorist attack,” she said.
She says students have until the end of the week to decide whether to finish their academics there or remotely from home.
“We want to make this as smooth as possible. We told the students we would support them either way.”
The school has been monitoring what other schools are doing and the State Department’s recommendation, which has not been for students to return home.
Borden says she’s already decided to stay and wants to be part of the city’s healing process.
“I really do have that feeling that we were deeply injured together in an attempt to divide us and make us afraid,” she said. “I feel that I would be remiss to leave in the middle of that and not stick around for the healing process.”