‘It was like a slaughterhouse’ – South Shields man lay on top of girlfriend to protect her from Paris terrorists

Emotional tributes have been left in Paris after the attacks.
Emotional tributes have been left in Paris after the attacks.

“It looked like an abattoir. It was like a slaughterhouse.”

With those chilling words, a South Shields man caught up in Friday night’s Paris terror attacks told of the carnage that unfolded during the Bataclan rock concert massacre.

The flag above South Shields Town Hall flies at half mast

The flag above South Shields Town Hall flies at half mast

Michael O’Connor was in the French capital to watch the Eagles of Death Metal with his girlfriend Sara Badel Craeye.

But what should have been an enjoyable night out for the couple and other rock fans turned into a nightmare as gunmen opened fire inside the venue, killing at least 89 people and injuring more than 100 others.

Speaking about the attrocity, the 30-year-old revealed:

• How a gunman fired indiscriminately into the crowd, changing the magazine of his automatic rifle as people tried to flee for their lives.

• How he lay on top of his girlfriend to protect her while terrified people played dead to avoid attracting the attention of the gunmen.

• How he told Sara that he loved her as he feared they were about to be killed.

Michael, now living in the French city of Lyon, described the chaos inside the venue, with “people falling all over the place, people screaming, people just clawing and running and pushing to get away”.

He said: “Once I half-realised what was going on, my first instinct was to get me and my girlfriend out of there.

“The attackers, I don’t think I heard them saying anything or shouting anything or making any demands. They were just firing indiscriminately into the crowds.

“Once he had emptied the magazines, everybody got back up and tried to make another dash for the exit, and then he just reloaded and started to fire into us all again.”

Michael described the scene as a “slaughterhouse”, saying he lay on top of his girlfriend to try to protect her as others around them played dead in a desperate bid to avoid being added to the death toll.

“There were wounded, and it was really strange because they looked terribly wounded and they were obviously conscious, but they weren’t crying out. They were obviously trying to stay quiet so that they didn’t attract more gunfire,” he added, speaking to BBC Five Live.

“I thought I was going to die. At one point, it sounds like they were firing down from the balcony into the main area where everybody was lying.

“I guess I thought at some point ‘they are just going to shoot at us as well’ and everybody else.

“We were quite close to the stage, just dancing. We heard a loud bang but thought it was part of the set.

“I saw one person. I think it was two people who entered from the back of the arena and opened fire.

“I grabbed my girlfriend and pulled her with me and tried to make my way towards the exit.

“There were people falling all over the place, people screaming, clawing and running and pushing to get away.

“It happened so quickly. Once I half-realised what was going on, my first instinct was to get me and my girlfriend out of there.”

Michael said there was a small fire exit inside the concert hall, and they tried to push towards it, but a metal barrier, intended to stop members of the audience getting onto the stage, blocked their route.

He added: “When he started to shoot again, we just hit the floor, just dropped to the ground.

“I could see lots of other people not moving. They were obviously dead. I thought ‘if we move, we are going to be killed’.

“One of the most eerie parts was when you can hear someone methodically reloading his gun just to start opening fire on you again. It was terrifying.”

“We just went limp. We were whispering to each other within the group telling each other we were going to be ok, gently holding each others’ hands.

“I thought I was going to die. I just told my girlfriend that I loved her. What else can you do in that situation? I expected to die.”

“I saw the door slowly open, and then I saw torches and flashlights and thought it’s got to be the police.

“It was, then I could finally start to think we actually might survive this.

“Police told us to wave our arms if we could to let them know who was alive.

“It looked like an abattoir. It was like a slaughterhouse.

“I was wading through blood. It was a centimetre deep in places. We had to climb over bodies to get out. It was just carnage.

“The best thing we can do is to get on with our lives. What they want to do is terrify us. We should just try and get on with our lives. We can’t let them win. These people are just monsters.

“The way I feel now is that we should just wipe them out off the face of the earth.”

Michael said his family back home in South Shields had no idea he was in Paris.

He said: “My mother broke down when I told her I was in there. She thought I was safe in Lyon.”

Michael is now planning to return to his home town to see his family and friends.

Over the weekend, a Union Flag above South Shields Town Hall was flown at half mast as the borough expressed its sympathy with those affected by the attacks across Paris, which killed at least 132 people and left 350 wounded.

Police believe three teams of terrorists carried out the co-ordinated attacks. Seven attackers, all wearing identical explosive belts, died.

Islamic State has since claimed responsibility.