PARIS — A survivor of the Charlie Hebdo massacre revealed how he hid from the attackers by lying on the floor with his dog, saying: “I closed my eyes and I waited for the bullet.”
Eric Portheault recounted his ordeal at the Paris satirical magazine, where 10 workers and two police officers were executed, in an interview with NBC News. “I had a nightmare and I am still not awake,” he said.
The financial director escaped with his life because he was in a separate corner of the editorial offices on Jan. 7 when Cherif and Said Kouachi walked in with automatic weapons and began a killing spree in revenge for the publication of cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad.
Portheault described the attackers, who were killed two days later in an armed siege at an industrial complex near Charles de Gaulle airport, as “impressively calm.”
“It began not with firing noises … but bangs, like successive explosions of fireworks. So I wondered what it was and I began … exiting my office. And at that moment I heard ‘Allahu Akbar!’ ["God is Greatest"] and then I thought, ‘That’s it.’”
“I took refuge behind my desk … to escape the field of vision of people if they eventually came to the window.”
Portheault said he knew instinctively that Charlie Hebdo was under attack.
“We have been threatened for the past eight years. We have been asking the authorities to protect us … which they do, but perhaps not enough. Perhaps we also failed to realize what could descend upon us,” he said. “Honestly, we never expected such horror.”
"I cried very little today. I don't know how long that will last"
He described the moment that he held his dog, a cocker spaniel called Lila, until the attack was over. Between 30 and 40 shots were fired, he said.
“There was a multitude of shots in succession. The sound of the Kalashnikov has become very familiar. And it lasted, I don't know, 30 seconds. After this there was a period of quiet and then I raised my head and I heard my dog … coming back slowly.
“I heard ‘tick tack tick tack tick tack’ and she came calmly toward me and I took her into my arm and when I turned around I saw the terrorist, one terrorist coming towards me staring at the ground. He hadn't seen me.
“I reacted without reacting because I didn't move. I heard a final explosion so then I curled up and lay down on the ground with my dog in my arms. It wasn't barking or whining.
“I closed my eyes and I waited for the bullet. But it didn't come.”
Portheault said he heard one of the Kouachi brothers telling co-worker Segolene Vinson: “Don’t worry, we don’t kill women.”
When the sounds of gunfire became more distant, he realized that the attackers had returned to the street and that it was safe to move — but knew he would find a scene of carnage.
“I understood what I had seen without seeing it,” he said. “There was a body, Mustapha's body; our proofreader. He must have dragged himself, wounded, and had been finished off with a shot to the ear by the terrorist.”
As other survivors telephoned for help, he called his wife “because I was afraid that she would find out from the media before I called her that there had been an attack and that there were many victims … I wanted to tell her that I was alive.”
One of the first victims of the attack was a maintenance worker in the shared building who was on his first day in the job.
“Obviously when they asked him if he knew where Charlie Hebdo was, he didn't know. Everyone died for nothing, but him even more. He didn't even know that we existed.”
Portheault described his “horrific suffering” after the event, saying: “I had a nightmare and I am still not awake. I wasn't afraid. Not to be a hero, but I wasn't afraid and I am still not afraid. I cried very little today. I don't know how long that will last.”
“We said one thing, Charlie has been decimated but he is not dead. We feel destroyed, even the survivors, we are destroyed but we are not dead,” he said. “My dream today is that Charlie stays for eternity.We will fight until the end. We will do everything for this newspaper to survive and that they did not die for nothing.”
NBC News' Nikolai Miller contributed to this report.