Paris on her mind

It was a bitter Friday the 13th for Nina Lacroix.

Sitting in U.S. history class, 16-year-old Lacroix received a message from a friend back in her native France alerting her to the terrorist attack unfolding in the nation’s capital.

“I tried to see all of the news,” said Lacroix, speaking after class at Ketchikan High School. “There was 40 dead people, and then 60 and then 80 and it kept increasing, and I was just crazy.”

Late-night terrorist attacks claimed 129 lives and wounded hundreds more on Friday in several areas of Paris. The Islamic State is taking credit for the attacks.

Lacroix is Rotary’s lone French exchange student in Alaska, and on Monday she wore all black clothing to school. Students throughout France did the same.

She traveled to Ketchikan in August from Sallanches, a town of about 16,000 in the Alps near the border with Switzerland.

“I think it’s very sad,” said Kirsten Streefkerk, a fellow Rotary exchange student from South Africa. “I feel sorry for Nina, because it did hurt her, and I could see that.”

Lacroix reached her family after getting word of the attacks, she said, and talked with a close cousin and his wife who live in Neuilly, a community in the western suburbs of Paris several blocks away from where the attacks took place.

Lacroix said her sister in France is too scared to watch the news.

She said she’s happy to be safe in Alaska, but frustrated to be so separated from the events in her country. The teenager said she was concerned that with France’s declaration of war, more attacks will come.

For now, Lacroix said she’s trying to understand why the attacks happened.

“They just killed for killing,” she said. “In January, there were the first attacks with Charlie Hebdo, which is a journal. So they killed journalists — they knew who they were going to kill. But now? They were just killing to kill people.

“Why Paris? Why now? Why these people?” she said later. “I’m really angry because I can’t do anything.”

On Monday, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker ordered flags to be flown at half staff in response to the attacks, and public events across the country through the weekend included moments of silence or showings of support for France.

“That’s really nice to see that the world is with us, is with France,” Lacroix said. “We’re not alone.”

Rosie Roppel, a member of First City Rotary who is looking after exchange students this year, said Lacroix well represents the goal of Rotary’s exchange program.

“One of the reasons that the youth exchange did start was so that we could place kids around the world,” Roppel said. “We want to create peace one by one.”

The French teenager speaks three languages — Spanish is her third — and is learning Russian. She wants to be a translater with the United Nations.

“We’re exchange students,” she said of fellow Rotarians. “We’re here to discover the culture and avoid that — avoid these kinds of attacks. Because if you know someone in a country, you don’t want to attack him.”

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