In France, A Quiet Hero Belatedly Comes To Light
Didi points to where he was standing when the terrorists arrived the night of Nov. 13, when he was on duty as a security guard outside the Bataclan concert hall. The gunmen massacred 90 people that night, in a killing spree that lasted nearly two hours. They were "shooting when they arrived," Didi says.
"There was nothing you could do," he says. "I told myself, I've got to quickly get as many people out of there as possible because these terrorists have come to kill as many people as they can."
Didi, 35, doesn't want to give his last name for fear that someone involved in the attacks may try to find him.
He is a Muslim of North African origin who grew up in a gritty neighborhood outside Paris. Most of the killers that night came from similar backgrounds. But Didi says a twisted ideology, and not their backgrounds, turned those men into killers.
"We all work and have good lives," he says. "Nobody understands why they did what they did."
He says he followed the gunmen inside the Bataclan and began trying to open doors so people could escape. One of the side doors he opened still has bullet holes through the steel.
When he saw the crowds trying to push through, he realized he needed to open more emergency exits. So he went back inside the Bataclan. This time he became trapped and found himself lying on the floor with everyone else, while the gunmen fired into the audience. Didi says he was close enough to hear them shouting about President Francois Hollande and Syria.
But as soon as the gunmen stopped to reload, Didi jumped up and yelled for people to follow him.
The coordinated attacks on cafes, a stadium and the Bataclan took place nearly three months ago, but Didi's heroic actions have only recently become known. He initially shunned the limelight. But after scores of the people he saved sought him out, Didi was identified and came forward.
"I heard somebody scream, 'Get out, get out, get out!' very loud. And of course now I realize that was Didi already," says Myriam, a 40-year-old mother of an 8-month-old baby. She doesn't want her last name known. Thanks to Didi, Myriam made it out of the club.
"I ended up in the street and I thought I was kind of safe," she recalls. "At least safer. And then I heard the same voice again screaming, 'They're shooting in the street, they're shooting in the street! Run, run, run, come here.' "
Myriam says that's when she first got a look at Didi. He led her to an apartment building across the street from the theater, where dozens of people were taking refuge.
A video taken from a nearby rooftop that night shows people pouring out of the concert hall into gunfire on the street beside the Bataclan. Myriam says Didi continued to cross back and forth across that street, between the Bataclan and the apartment building, bringing more people and helping the wounded.
"He was calm and in charge," she says. "We felt secure and knew we'd be saved with him." Myriam says Didi tried to bar the front door of the building — because at that point, no one knew if the terrorists would pursue them.
"As security at the Bataclan, his job was to get drunks out of the club and things like that," she says. "But he was so brave. He knew the exits. He could've run. Everyone was running for their lives. But he didn't. He took care of us."
Emmanuel Domenach escaped through a door behind the stage. He says he would have never known the door existed if it hadn't been for Didi.
"I was falling down in the street," says Emmanuel. "I lost my glasses and I started to search for them because I am really blind without them. I saw a lot of blood around me, and there was someone lying there who was dead or gravely wounded. And at this time, I heard this man shouting at me and telling me, 'What are you doing?! They are shooting at you.' "
Emmanuel says Didi took him to the building where Myriam and many others were hiding. She and Emmanuel estimate Didi's actions that night saved 400 or 500 people, maybe even more.
In the midst of such horror, Didi says, he had no time to think. Instinct just took over. But today, he is still shaken. He has flashbacks. And trouble sleeping. He doesn't know if he will be able to return to work at the Bataclan when it reopens.
Didi says the friendship and gratitude of people like Myriam and Emmanuel warm his heart and are helping him to recover.
As for Myriam and Emmanuel, whenever they feel depressed or in despair, they think about Didi. They say he gives them hope for humanity. Myriam says they've started a petition to nominate Didi for France's highest award, the Legion of Honor.
"My life will never be long enough to thank him for what he did," she says. "And thanks to him, my baby has a mother. We saw the worst things that night, the worst human beings ever. And then we saw the best thing."