Man Who Hid Steps Away From French Gunmen: 'My Heart Stopped'

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A man working at a printing factory in France, where two gunmen responsible for the deadly attack on a satirical magazine holed up during a police pursuit, said he hid for several hours in a cupboard — balled up in the fetal position — and said his “heart stopped” when the attackers nearly discovered him.

Lilian Lepere was at work when the gunmen, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, ran into the printing business outside Paris on Friday. His manager distracted the pair, making them coffee, while Lepere found a hiding spot under a sink — one he stayed in during the seven-hour standoff. During that time, one of the brothers opened the cupboard next to him; another time, one took a drink of water from the sink.

“Water leaked down my back. It was like being in a movie,” he told France 2, a public television channel, on Monday. “Had he had used the towel resting on the cupboard door, it would have opened the door. My heart stopped.”

Lepere said he knew from watching news reports that the factory in Dammartin was on a road the gunmen could take after they fled Paris, where they killed 12 people at the magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and a policeman on the street.

Lepere’s boss, Michel Catalano, said he saw the brothers approaching with guns and a rocket launcher and told Lepere to hide.

“At first when Michel told me they had Kalashnikovs (automatic rifles), I didn't believe him. He went to the phone but he didn't have time,” Lepere said. “We heard steps, so Michel went to the corridor.”

"I asked them if they wanted a coffee. I made coffee,” Catalano told France 2, adding that he also helped bandage one of the men who had a superficial wound on his neck. “I had to bandage it twice because it was too tight the first time round. I stayed calm. Even when they shot at the gendarmes, I wasn't afraid,” he said, then broke down as he noted his biggest fear was the gunmen finding Lepere.

Lepere said that while he was in his hiding spot, he put his cellphone on silent and only moved when he heard noise in the factory so as not to give himself away. He texted with his family, who connected him to the GIGN, a special unit of France’s national police.

“There were two explosions, then it was freedom. I had covered my head and my sides,” he said, noting he fled his hiding spot though GIGN had told him not to move.

A total of 17 people died over three days of attacks by the brothers and a related gunman, who killed four people in a kosher market in Paris on Friday.

Asked if his life was different now, Lepere said: “It happened, I was spared and I had no contact with them. I feel lucky. I have played the lottery tonight.”

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