A few hundred people gathered in Lafayette Square north of the White House Saturday evening to pay tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks that shocked Paris and the world.
Several coordinated attacks, including two suicide bombs near a soccer stadium and suicide bombs detonated in a concert hall, left 129 dead and 352 wounded Friday night in the French capital, according to The New York Times . The Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attack. On Saturday, the French Embassy in the District of Columbia organized a vigil to mourn and show solidarity with those suffering in France. "We are allies but we are friends," Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the U.S. told the crowd. "And we know that — all of us — we are facing the same threat.”
Araud stood in front of American, European Union and French flags placed in front of Marquis de Lafayette in the southeast corner of the park across from the White House. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was also on hand for the vigil.
“Let’s think of all who were there," Araud said. "Let’s think also of their parents, their relatives, their spouses, their friends, who are now carrying the burden of the grief, the burden of the mourning."
Araud led the crowd in a moment of silence, after which they sang the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise." The ambassador then left, but the crowd stayed behind, with more people joining as the sun set. They shared candles and broke into the national anthem several times.
A young man wearing a gray leather jacket had a French flag draped over his shoulders, and told HOH he came to the park to show his support for the people of Paris.
"It’s really hard being away from home, my city," said the young man, Antoine Verdeaux, 20, who was born in Paris and goes to school in Northern Virginia. "It’s really sad to see everyone in so much pain over there, so I thought the best thing I could do is come out here and show my support, show my solidarity."
"It’s a time when we all stand together be together," Verdeaux continued. "Because that’s what they want to do — the terrorists — they want to separate us, they want to scare us. We have to show them that we’re not going to let them."
Verdeaux joined people of all ages in the crowd, from toddlers hoisted on their parents' shoulders to the elderly, standing stiff in the cold.
They overwhelmed the statue of Lafayette, huddled on and around it, with one small child touching Lafayette's sword with one hand, while gripping with the other hand a sign that read "Peace." The sound of spoken French was pervasive, and multiple members of the crowd donned the tricolors.
As the somber crowd stood together, security officials with the Secret Service, the U.S. Park Police and the Metropolitan Police Department stood nearby.
On Friday evening, as news of the attacks broke, MPD deployed law enforcement to "French-owned sites and other high-profile locations," according to a statement. MPD noted there was "no imminent threat to the District."
U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman Capt. Kimberly Schneider also said in a statement Friday evening that the Capitol Police were monitoring the events in Paris. Enhanced patrols throughout the Capitol Campus may be observed, conducted out of an abundance of caution. There is currently no known threat to the Capitol Complex," Schneider said.
On Saturday evening, the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms announced via Twitter that flags on the Capitol grounds will fly at half-staff to honor the victims of the Paris attacks.