'Heartbreaking': Suburban Francophiles devastated by Paris attacks

  • Jeanne Engelkemeir, left, of Vernon Hills visited her friend Marie-Christine Claire in Paris this summer.

    Jeanne Engelkemeir, left, of Vernon Hills visited her friend Marie-Christine Claire in Paris this summer. Courtesy of Jeanne Engelkemeir

  • Members of the Palatine Rugby Club chase down the yellow ball carrier from the Fontenay-Luçon Vendee rugby club during a match held as part of a Sister City exchange trip.

      Members of the Palatine Rugby Club chase down the yellow ball carrier from the Fontenay-Luçon Vendee rugby club during a match held as part of a Sister City exchange trip. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer, April 2015

 
 
Updated 11/14/2015 4:30 PM

Jeanne Engelkemeir chokes up describing her reactions to Friday's terrorist attack on her beloved City of Light.

"Heartbreaking ... to happen in Paris of all places, which is so wonderful and such a special, magical place," said Engelkemeier, a French translator and Hawthorn District 73 school board member.

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Since news broke of bombings and shootings at a stadium, concert hall and neighborhoods in Paris, Engelkemeier tried to get word of close friends -- including a university student and his girlfriend -- living there.

Saturday, she saw on Facebook they were unharmed and was able to exhale slightly.

"It's a relief on a personal level but it's tragic to think about the other people," said Engelkemeir, who visited France this summer. "People were just sitting in cafes and living their lives."

The numbers are fluid but at least 129 people were killed and about 350 injured, authorities said. Engelkemeir is a French teacher and has hosted French students and organized exchanges in her community of Vernon Hills.

"We have to come together to fight on and carry on. They cannot close down or ruin Paris," she said.

Engelkemeir had goose bumps watching images of terrified Parisians and police swarming the city. "As I kept hearing more and more details, it became nauseating."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Palatine Rugby Club Coach Alan Burton had similar feelings after organizing an exchange in April with a rugby team from the village's French Sister City Fontenay-le-Compt that was a bonding experience for all involved.

"I'm getting choked up just talking about it," Burton said. "I have not heard yet any news yet. Frankly, I take that as a good sign. If anyone was injured or hurt directly ... news travels very quickly."

The French rugby players live about an hour west of Paris and are ages 15 to 19.

"Between the band concert being targeted and the stadium with an international soccer match going on, it seems they were definitely targeting people of the same age as our visitors," Burton said.

As with 9/11, "people do this to try to generate fear and upset. I think it will backfire. I think it will bring our countries closer together."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek also scanned Facebook for updates on Mount Prospect's Sister City of Sevres, France.

"Sevres is like Evanston to Chicago," Juracek said. "You can see the Eiffel Tower from there. My hostess when I was there last has sons in their teens and 20s and I thought, 'oh my gosh ..."

Her friends were unharmed, but Juracek said her heart goes out to the French people. "They're our oldest allies."

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