Fresno State student witnesses reaction to attacks from France

On the third day of national mourning, the Eiffel Tower was lighted in the national colors after going dark on Nov. 16, 2015 in Paris. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

“I was stupefied, initially scared,” Christina Cruz said.

That was the reaction to Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris from a Fresno State student studying French in Lyon, a city that’s only a two-hour train ride away from the French capital.

Cruz, who had been in Europe since August and in Lyon since Sept. 1., saw that the attacks rocked the entire French nation.

“The whole country is affected,” Cruz said. “While some have decided to continue with their lives, they are nonetheless affected.”

“Naturally, the French take anything that happens in their borders to heart,” Cruz said. “Some museums have been closed here in Lyon as they were in Paris. I have recently visited the city’s town hall, where many people have led a candlelight vigil.”

“I must admit I was caught up in the emotion. But not having known anyone personally, I can’t speak to that capacity. People were crying, not having the capacity to comprehend what had happened, why and will it happen in Lyon?” Cruz added.

The sight of police and other security forces used to concern Cruz, but now she is comforted by them.

Cruz said that French media were reporting that an estimated 4,000 people were under terrorist watch by French security forces. That figure made her uneasy.

“How does that make me feel?” Cruz said. “How does that make anyone feel?”

Friday’s attacks have made Cruz question whether she’ll continue to study abroad in Lyon.

“I am considering my second semester which I had planned on remaining here in France,” Cruz said. “Is it safe for me? Many say Europe is safe, but the recent events speak otherwise.”

The effects of Friday’s terror attacks also reached back to California, where hundreds gathered for a vigil at California State University, Long Beach on Sunday to honor the memory of 23-year-old senior Nohemi Gonzalez, who was among those killed in the terrorist attacks in Paris.

A standing-room-only crowd including students, faculty and family members packed the ballroom inside the University Student Union for the vigil, which began at 4 p.m. The crowd was so large that it spilled out into the lobby area.

Gonzalez was studying at the Strate College of Design in Paris as part of a semester-abroad program. She was at a bistro Friday night with three friends when gunmen opened fire from a passing vehicle.

Her friends managed to escape, but Gonzalez was wounded and later died of her injuries at a hospital, said Jeet Joshee, associate vice president for international education at the university.

Friends and family described Gonzalez as a diligent and committed worker with lofty dreams, including studying abroad in Paris.

She worked as a teaching assistant at Cal State Long Beach and as a shop technician, overseeing lower-division students on their design projects.

“She was a warrior, she fought for her dreams,” said student Alysia Elnagar, who took a basic design class in which Gonzalez served as an assistant.

“Even as a freshman, she exhibited leadership. She owned the stage whenever she presented,” recalled David Lee, design instructor who taught Gonzalez in foundation drawing and advanced drawing classes. “Her magic and beauty was so effortless.”

Gonzalez was one of 19 people killed at the popular bistro La Belle Equipe. Nine others were critically wounded.

In addition to the 129 killed in the coordinated attacks in Paris, more than 350 were injured, many of them critically.

Sunday’s vigil was also expected to recognize the more than 80 students from France who are enrolled at Cal State Long Beach in foreign-exchange programs.

Student body President Jose Salazar, Vice President Miriam Hernandez and Treasurer Wendy Lewis said in a statement that the campus is in mourning.

“Though we did not know Nohemi personally, we know the spirit of CSULB students and we know it is a resilient one,” according to the statement. “The students at Cal State Long Beach stand with all of our students studying abroad trying to mourn this terrible tragedy.”

CSU Chancellor Timothy White was also at Sunday’s vigil and read a poem written for Gonzalez by Juan Felipe Herrera, the U.S. Poet Laureate and former Fresno State professor.

Flags were flown at half-staff across Fresno State over the weekend at the order of president Dr. Joseph Castro, to memorialize Gonzalez and the 128 others killed.

Los Angeles Times staff writers Anh Do, Javier Panzar, Thomas Curwen, Soumya Karlamangla and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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