Cleveland woman in Paris during attacks shares story of tense final day of trip

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CLEVELAND, Ohio-- Rachel Pankiw is grateful to be home in Northeast Ohio, after a tense final day in Paris and delayed return trip. She'd just gotten back to her hotel room Friday night when the terror attacks happened. Pankiw said she was asleep ahead of an early flight back to the U.S. Saturday morning.

“We went to bed. We didn't know anything was going on,” Pankiw said. “We got a call from my aunt about 12:30 a.m., 1 a.m. and we thought it was something to do with some medical stuff with some family members, and she told us there was a terrorist attack going on.”

The attack happened a short distance from Pankiw’s hotel, she said. She was with her mother and aunt visiting Pankiw’s sister, a Kent State University student studying abroad in southern France. Pankiw said a night before the attacks, they had eaten dinner just a block away from where terrorists opened fire on restaurants.

“I was still definitely scared because our hotel was literally ten minutes away from where the attacks were, so we heard ambulances non-stop,” Pankiw said.

As dozens of worried friends and loved ones reached out by phone and online, Pankiw used a special Facebook feature to let them know she was safe. She spent the night worried about getting out of Paris for her flight home.

“We were always used to people at all hours of the night, and there was literally no one on the streets whatsoever,” she said of the shuttle ride to the airport early Saturday. “It kind of looked like an abandoned city, which for Paris is unusual.”

At Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport, Pankiw said there were two hour-long lines for border control, with security taking an additional hour, delaying her flight. She said SWAT response to an unattended bag slowed the process. Back in the U.S., at Newark, her flight was greeted by armed police officers on the jetway.

“You don't anticipate machine guns the moment you get off a plane, especially in the U.S., but it was also a sense of relief because you'd rather have too much security than not enough,” she said.

More customs delays at Newark meant missed connections. Pankiw finally got back to Cleveland Sunday night, a full day later than planned.

“You can’t anticipate these things,” she said. “It could happen anywhere, anytime.”
Pankiw said her sister remains in France to complete her semester abroad, and the family will be relieved once that’s done and her sister is back home safe as well.

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