Metro-East News

Paris lawyers with local ties: City ‘rocks but never sinks’

Sara Susnjar, 2007 St. Louis University law school grad, has lived in Paris since 2007. She was at a business dinner at the time of the terrorist attacks on Friday.
Sara Susnjar, 2007 St. Louis University law school grad, has lived in Paris since 2007. She was at a business dinner at the time of the terrorist attacks on Friday. Provided photo

Sara Susnjar didn’t know how bad the terrorists attacks in Paris were on Friday until she started getting frantic calls and messages from loved ones concerned about her welfare as she doesn’t live far from where the attacks occurred.

Susnjar received her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Illinois-Champaign in 2004. She graduated from St. Louis University in 2007 with her law degree. Belleville lawyer Lloyd Cueto and Collinsville lawyer Maureen Suarez were her classmates.

She also received her master’s in European and international business law from the University of Paris IX Dauphine in 2008. She currently works for Winston & Strawn in Paris.

Her mother and sisters live in northern Illinois.

This is her account of Friday’s attack:

“I was at a work-related dinner in the 9th (municipal district), about a 10 minute drive from the 10th/11th where most of the attacks happened. My husband started to frantically text message me around 10 p.m. asking me where I was because there were ‘shootings.’ He instructed me not to go near the 10th or the 11th, and I was very close in the 9th.

“I don’t think I realized the extent of what was happening. My dinner was finishing, I dropped off the other attorney at his hotel (nearby), and instructed my driver to take me home and not go via République (which would have been the typical route). I myself live at St. Paul, a couple minutes south of where the shootings happened in the 10th/11th. Once I was alone in the cab, I realized the extent (and the horror) of what had happened. I also saw that I had dozens of text messages, missed calls and e-mails from people in Paris and those in the United States. I started to frantically e-mail loved ones in Paris to see if they were OK. The places that were hit are places in ‘my neighborhood,’ places where I had dinner or grabbed drinks on a terrace with friends.

“As I mentioned, I live in the ‘Marais,’ area near metro St. Paul. The district is a historic district (historically Jewish), south of the 11th, and to some extent mythic; as it is always in ‘action,’ populated by young people, artists, tourists, etc. I live less than a block away from Rue de Rosiers, considered to be the heart of this district. The district is one of the only ones in business on Sundays — as such, full of people. The Marais was pretty empty. There were very few people on the streets, and the mood was somber. People were hanging the French flag from windows and some banners of support. The cafes and restaurants, typically filled with those vying for the best seats, had some business, but nothing like a regular Marais weekend. Furthermore, there was a ‘mouvement de panique’ right on my street on Sunday night as I saw people screaming and running on the street; abandoning their cars; and police/military coming in. I understand that it was a false alarm — but it was still pretty scary and everyone is on the edge.

“It was nice that the Paris managing partner of my firm sent out an e-mail on Friday night asking that everyone check in that they were OK and also sent out a global message to the firm worldwide on the events in Paris. We felt like a community.

“(Monday), at noon, in Paris, everyone had a minute of silence for the victims. Through the large conference room windows in my firm, you could see Paris stop for a moment; people got out on the terraces, or were looking through their large windows. Colleagues in offices joined together. This busy, bustling city, took a breath as one, to honor the ones who were gunned down while doing things celebrating the human spirit.”

University City native says Paris ‘rocks but never sinks’

Brendan Berne grew up in University City, Mo. Berne went to St. Louis University High School and University of Chicago for undergraduate degree. He graduated from St. Louis University Law School in 2002. He has lived in Paris for the better part of 20 years, studying French literature before returning to the St. Louis for law school. He has been working as a lawyer in France since 2004.

Here’s his account of what happened Friday:

“My family and I live in the 10th municipal district, near the canal St. Martin. It’s about a five-minute walk from where two of the shootings occurred on the corner of rue Bichat and rue Alibert (Le Petit Cambidge and Le Carillon). We have a 5-month-old son so we were home with him and my step-daughter, who is 14. We were hoping to have an early night when my wife saw reports popping up in her phone about a shooting in Paris at the Bataclan. — a bit further down the canal. I noticed that another shooting occurred even closer.

“Of course, we started getting messages from friends all over, in Paris and abroad, asking about us. As the news continued to come in, we learned about the hostage situation at Bataclan. We had a few friends who were unaccounted for that we were trying to track down with the help of others. Thank God, we were eventually able to get news, and no one in our immediate circle were affected.

“My assistant at the law firm wasn’t so lucky, though. A friend of hers was struck by three bullets and is now in a coma at the hospital. It seems everyone knows, is friends with or works with someone who was killed or injured in one of the attacks.

“We must have stayed up until 2 a.m. or so, whenever the hostage takers were neutralized.

“The next day, many of the stores and all of the museums and national monuments were closed. It was very eerie. It was so quiet in Paris, which is not common for a Saturday, especially this time of year and seeing as the weather has been so mild.

“We are in national mourning for three days, but what I’ve noticed most is a sense of resilience and solidarity. People are cordial and polite. It is not common in Paris for strangers to greet each other, as they do back home, but today, folks are taking extra effort. The Paris motto is ‘Rocks but never sinks,’ which has become a kind of slogan like ‘Keep calm and carry on’ was in the United Kingdom during WWII.”

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer

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