In six years, this is the first time you have spoken in the media. You recount your experience in His life for mine, a work published on January 10 by Éditions Artège. Why break the silence today?
I finally feel ready. The years following the attack were very difficult, as if an avalanche of difficulties were going to bury me. Added to the trauma was the breakup with my partner at the time, the death of my father, the administrative battle to receive the compensation paid to victims of terrorism, without forgetting my statements to the police disclosed in the press… I I found myself more and more alone and destitute. But today, choosing to express myself is a kind of therapy. Above all, I must honor the memory of Arnaud Beltrame.
However, you wish to remain anonymous…
I want to protect myself and my family – my daughter was less than 3 years old at the time of the attack. It is up to me to decide whether or not the people I meet should know my story. On a daily basis, wearing the label of hostage proves trying. I have heard many prejudices against me: “Why can’t she cope? She must have had a lot of help! » “Why isn’t she working again? » But also, as a victim survivor, I fear potential reprisals.
What happened on March 23, 2018, when Radouane Lakdim entered the Super U of Trèbes?
(She closes her eyes for a long time.) I was at my post, behind the reception counter of the supermarket. The sound of a pallet falling to the ground, then a second, alerted me. I then looked up and saw an arm in the air with a gun. A bang rang out, then a man shouted “Allah Akbar” (God is greatest), which caused a commotion. I couldn’t get through the store to escape, so I hid in an office. But he quickly found me. “It’s okay, I have my hostage!” he said. I tried to reassure myself by seeing him as a 25-year-old kid who shouldn’t be annoyed. He asked me to call the police. I obeyed him. On the other end of the line, I heard the policewoman who answered snap her fingers (she mimes the gesture) to warn his colleagues. They were already aware of the situation. She asks me not to hang up and that reassures me, I feel less alone. Then, the kid waited for the police to arrive, he seemed proud to see caps and flashing lights waving through the bay window. He told me what he had done earlier that morning – before arriving at the supermarket where he killed a customer and an employee, he had murdered a motorist. He now wanted to die as a martyr by causing as much damage as possible among the police. I looked down and told him I wasn’t ready to die. Then, the police entered the supermarket…
What happened next?
A platoon of five gendarmes formed at the entrance, weapons pointed at us, as they advanced. The kid shouted something at that point, but I don’t remember it anymore. He then slipped behind me, his gun behind my ear (she mimes the gesture) and his knife pointed between my ribs. I was frozen. I was afraid that the terrorist would shoot accidentally, because I felt the barrel of his gun shaking behind my head. It was face to face. There was no way out for me: I was convinced that the shots were going to go off, like in the Wild West.
But a gendarme, Arnaud Beltrame, said: “The little lady can’t do anything about it, take me in her place, look, I’m disarming myself!” » The gendarme looked straight ahead, without wanting to meet my eyes, as if he didn’t want to remind the terrorist of my presence. After a few exchanges between them, I was able to move towards the exit while Arnaud Beltrame slowly progressed towards the interior of the store.
This hostage-taking will be fatal for Arnaud beltrame. Do you feel guilty?
In my eyes, he adopted the only attitude possible to save my life. If he took the risk of sacrificing his life for mine, I cannot feel guilty. Even if this does not correspond to the procedures, I perceived in him a real negotiator attitude: he represented the authority of the State without being too aggressive or submissive. He weighed his words and seemed to know what he was doing. As a professional, he knew he was much better equipped than me to survive the hostage situation. Nevertheless, I feel indebted today to recount his gesture, which may have been criticized by part of the population. His wife, Marielle Beltrame, whom I respect very much, spoke to me about his sense of duty, to which he was very attached. But I felt a certain guilt when, after the tragedy, my life began to fall apart. “He would have saved my life for nothing? » I said to myself. This depressed me even more. I had to manage to get back up, enjoy life and be present for my loved ones.
You emerged from these forty minutes of hostage-taking without physical injury, but with what psychological consequences?
I have serious after-effects because this war scene tore me from society. I used to be a confident and positive person. Today I constantly struggle with anxiety. My nights are restless and when I wake up I always feel tired. I still manage to get up, put on a smile and take care of my daughter. But when I’m not with my family, I spend my time brooding. I live in a situation of permanent catastrophe. When my daughter is not with me, I am always afraid that something will happen to her, like an attack at school. In the street, I constantly imagine car accidents or terrorist acts.
How did you get back up?
Three years after the attack, in a period of psychological exhaustion, I came across a letter written by a father from the abbey of Lagrasse (Aude), who had known Arnaud Beltrame well. I hit the road the next day with my daughter. I am then an atheist, a convinced Cartesian and gently contemptuous of believers. I’m going a long way. But there, the canon talks to me about his spiritual son, Arnaud Beltrame, whom I get to know better. In this community, I was nourished with love. And that gave birth to my faith. Today, prayer is all I have left. When I panic, it nourishes me and allows me to come out of my permanent state of fear, to imagine a positive future. I was baptized a few months ago, and I also met my husband in this community. He supports me every day. (She turns to him, he is present during the interview.)
Did you go back to the Trèbes supermarket?
I went there once, before the store reopened, to support my colleagues. But I had to hold on to the security guard’s arm. Otherwise, my husband takes care of the shopping. But when I have no choice, I resort to avoidance strategies: I favor markets or organic stores because there are fewer people.
From January 22 to February 23 before the special court in Paris, seven defendants will be tried for terrorist conspiracy while Radouane Lakdim was killed during the attack by the police. What are you waiting for?
To tell the truth, I don’t know… I wish the trial was behind me so I could finally start to turn the page. (She pauses for a long time.) I now want to have the chance to continue living day to day with my family, hoping to soon become simply Julie again and no longer “the exchanged hostage.” »