Heavy rain might have dampened turnout at a local vigil held Saturday for those killed and wounded in the bloody terrorist attacks in Paris. But the dark skies reflected the sorrow of those who attended.
“We are in shock,” said Christelle Caron, who grew up outside the French capital and has lived in Miami since 2001. Standing next to her, her parents, who are visiting, nodded in solemn agreement.
“My heart, it is so heavy,” Caron said. “The innocent lives that were taken, there are no words to describe such an atrocity. It was a cowardly act.”
About 30 people came to the vigil held outside Miami’s French consulate in Brickell. Many were French citizens. They lit candles, held flags of their native land and offered flowers in memory of the 129 people known to have lost their lives in a string of shootings and bombings in Paris on Friday. Hundreds more were wounded, many of them gravely.
In brief remarks, Philippe Létrilliart, the consul general of France in Miami, told the crowd it was a time for mourning.
“We do not have enough candles for all the people who died yesterday,” Létrilliart said.
Then he asked for a moment of silence.
Many in the crowd said they used social media to contact friends and family in Paris to make sure they were safe.
“We want to say to [those in France] that we are here with you today,” said Kévin Bretécher, who grew up in the French city of Nantes, as his eyes clouded with tears.
About 12,000 French citizens live in Florida and are registered with the consulate. A consular official estimated that an additional 28,000 French citizens live here but have not registered. Most of them, she said, live in the Miami area. The consulate first opened in 1976.
The United State and France have ties going back to the Revolutionary War when King Louis XVI aided the fledgling colonies in their struggle against Great Britain.
“Today, we feel as one nation with the U.S.,” said Xavier Capdevielle, a French elected official who lives in Miami and represents the interests of Florida’s French citizens back in their home country. “This is our Sept. 11.”
A larger crowd turned out at a vigil held Saturday night on Lincoln Road. About 50 people, some holding French flags and wearing soccer jerseys, came to honor the dead. Tourists passing by stopped to pay their respects.
A group of French students studying English at a school in Miami Beach heard about the event on Facebook. Their friends and family were safe, but they were scared for their country.
“We are struggling to understand,” said Alexandre Théaru, of Lille.
After a moment of silence, the mourners sang France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise.
After the song, the crowd marched up and down Lincoln Road picking up new members as it went. The procession stretched nearly an entire block.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks. CBS News reported that the U.S. State Department has confirmed Americans were among the dead and injured, including a California student on an exchange program who was killed.
The attacks were the deadliest in France since World War II. South Florida officials reacted Friday and Saturday to the killings that French President François Hollande called “an act of war.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez called the events in Paris “heartbreaking” in a statement Friday night.
“Although there is no information at this time that Miami-Dade faces any imminent threat, [the Miami-Dade Police Department] is taking prudent measures out of an abundance of caution and continuing to work with our Federal and State partners,” he said. “At this time, all Miami-Dade Police Department officers have been advised to remain on high alert. Additional measures are in place at Miami International Airport and PortMiami.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Weston, offered her condolences in a statement Saturday morning and said she will support U.S. efforts to stop the Islamic State.
“The United States stands firmly by our oldest ally, France, during this dark day in history, and I offer my sincere condolences and strong support to President Hollande,” she said.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development has set up a hotline for victims’ relatives abroad:
Also on Saturday, parishioners at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church gathered to pray for victims and their families. A service was given in French.
Muslim leaders in South Florida condemned the attacks, calling them “despicable atrocities.”
“If as is reported those who committed these acts of death and destruction did so in the name of Islam, they cannot be deemed true followers of Islam,” said a statement sent to the Miami Herald by Imran Ali, president and CEO of the Children’s Trust. “They are very mistaken and no longer subscribe to the teachings of Islam and the laws that govern the lives of Muslims.”
Ali said several local mosques, including Masjid Al Ishaan, the Islamic School of Miami, Masjid Miami Gardens and Masjid Ul Mumineen, endorsed his statement.
People have taken to social media networks worldwide to offer their thoughts and prayers for France, and landmarks in various cities were lit up in the red, white and blue of the French flag, including the Miami Tower downtown.
At the Brickell vigil, some expressed anger and fear.
“It is time for us to send troops to Syria and Iraq,” said Nadine Etienne, originally of Strasbourg, France.
Nearby, Helen Gauthier said she and her husband didn’t know how to break the news of the massacres to their 6-year-old daughter .
“We told her that a lot of people were hurt in Paris,” said Gauthier, who drove from Fort Lauderdale to attend the vigil. “I don’t want her to be scared the next time we visit.”
As the crowd huddled under the entrance awning of the former Espirito Santo tower, where the French consulate has been since 2004, the rain and wind blew out the flickering candles again and again.
Each time, mourners stepped forward to relight them.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.