A day ago, many of them had never heard of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. But on Wednesday night, they cried out over and over at the Newseum: “Je suis Charlie.”
That statement of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, the publication in Paris where 12 people were fatally shot Wednesday, was everywhere at the Newseum, which held a vigil in honor of those killed.
On handwritten posters. On the museum’s well-known sidewalk display of newspaper front pages. On a massive overhead screen. Pinned on jackets. Shouted, over and over, after each victim’s name was read aloud.
I am Charlie. Je suis Charlie. I am Charlie. Je suis Charlie. Je suis Charlie.
“No one should have to die for what they believe in like that,” said Morgane Renoir, 24, who was born in France and has lived in the United States since she was 10. She was one of about 400 people who attended the vigil.
The crowd, predominantly French, included the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde.
Thomas Riumeau, 37, has lived in the United States for 12 years. But when he heard the news, he felt powerfully drawn to be with other people whose hearts were in France. He took a train from his home in Odenton, Md., in Anne Arundel County, to be at the Newseum.
“It hurt me,” he said. His father was a big fan of Charlie Hebdo, and he remembered the paper’s sharp satire.
“It can be seen as offensive, but I think there’s a difference between being offended and deciding to kill people,” Riumeau said. “If they offend people, that’s what freedom is about. You can offend people.”
Veronique Marchand wanted to share that lesson about the meaning of freedom with her 10-year-old daughters and 7-year-old son, whom she brought to the vigil.
She said she has brought them to similar events before, including a memorial for the victims of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting in 2012. On Wednesday, she wanted them to see Americans honoring victims of an attack in the Marchands’ home country, just as they have paid their respects at moments of American tragedy.
“It’s against the journalists and the freedom of speech when a journalist is killed,” she told the children.
Her daughter Justine tried to articulate what an assault on press freedom means.
“It’s like saying, ‘Everybody shut up,’ ” Justine said. “Because hundreds of people, if they hear a news reporter died, they think, ‘Oh, no.’ ”
Justine’s sister, Maxence, added: “I feel very sad. What those criminals did was very disrespectful and very bad.”
Pauline Pierre, 24, a law student at Georgetown University, said she had been in contact with her shocked friends and family in France throughout the day.
“The reaction of a lot of people is that they cannot see France as a place where you could die for your ideas or for the liberty of the press,” Pierre said. “It’s a country of fundamental liberties. No one really thought that this could happen.”