The Post’s Susan Svrluga sends this dispatch from a candlelight vigil in downtown D.C.:
As the sun set Saturday evening, people hurried through Lafayette Square, many speaking French. The White House glowed behind them, but they turned toward the statue of French Gen. Lafayette, a Revolutionary War hero. A woman bent to light three candles at the base of the statue as a crowd swelled for a vigil.
Gérard Araud, the ambassador of France, stepped forward, grieving another terrorist attack in Paris.
Gérard Araud (left), French ambassador to the U.S. addressed the crowd in French. Standing next to him was Denis McDonough, White House chief of staff. (Victoria M. Walker/The Washington Post)
“I think it is not the time to make a speech,” he said, looking over hundreds of somber faces. Briefly, he thanked the United States for its support. “We are not just allies, but we are friends.” And we are all facing the same threat, he said.
He spoke in French, in essence saying France is at war, and we are united. France is not one religion or ethnicity but a place where all can choose to live together, he said.
After a moment of silence, people joined in La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.
And then people called out, “Vive la France!”
The vigil was held in a place that honors the historical alliance between the two nations. The statue of Lafayette in the park is inscribed, “By the Congress in commemoration of the services rendered by General Lafayette and his compatriots during the struggle for the independence of the United States of America.”
Inspired by the ideals of the American revolution as a 19-year-old French nobleman, Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, enlisted with the Continental Army in direct defiance of King Louis the XVI.
He was appointed a Major General and formed a close friendship with Gen. George Washington. After returning to France and celebrated as a hero, he helped launch the French Revolution. The park in front of the White House was named in his honor in 1824.
(Victoria M. Walker/The Washington Post)
“I’m French,” Mireille Robertson said, “That is why I came,” with her husband, who is American. Her son in Paris is safe; so are the two sons of her best friend, who were at the soccer stadium and told their mother they keep hearing the sound of the explosion, over and over. “I never go to demonstrations,” she said, “Never. I’m 53. This is my second,” she said, referring to the Charlie Hebdo attack. And she came Saturday.
Armand de Villeroché, a 15-year-old from Paris who lives in Bethesda now, said he feels sadness – and he wants to fight. He held a French flag tightly in his hands. “We’re not giving up,” he said.
Some in the crowd had no connection to France – other than the grief so many felt at the terrorist attack. Others had ties that suddenly felt binding.
Caroline Reppe, a 22-year-old from Texas, came because she studied in France for six months, and so the killings were an assault on a place she had called home. “This is just what I felt I needed to do,” she said.
Some hugged, crying. Some lit candles. A little girl held a paper French flag, colored in with red and blue crayons.
As darkness fell, the crowd continued to grow, hundreds gathered around the statute, clambering up its base, huddled closely together in the cold. They sang La Marseillaise again, more softly this time.