Sixteen Croydon schoolchildren who were caught up in the terrorist outrages in Paris returned safely to London today, tearful but otherwise unharmed.
After the news of the attacks spread through Paris, the pupils from Riddlesdown Collegiate in Purley, Croydon, spent a fearful night hiding in one room in their hostel and listening to sirens. Some became tearful with the anxiety of the night.
After taking one of the first Eurostar trains of the day, they arrived in St. Pancras station at lunchtime today, greeted by anxious parents.
Riddlesdown Collegiate principal Soumick Dey met the group as they arrived at St. Pancras. He said he was in communication with the school’s director of art Tracey McKeefry, who was supervising the trip, as soon as news of the attacks came out.
“By that point, things were closed, there was nothing coming in or out of the country at all, Eurostar had closed down as well”, he said. “So it was this morning that I spoke to the travel agent, who was able at that point to get earlier tickets.”
According to student Nia Ashby, 17, the group was at the Arc De Triomphe when the first attacks occurred, around 9.30pm yesterday evening. They immediately returned to their hostel, where they were kept together in a single room for security reasons by hostel management.
Ashby said that the students started hearing sirens on the subway ride back to the hostel.
“There was loads of sirens. There was more of them as it went on in the night. They were just getting louder and louder,” Nia said.
She said she had tried to stay optimistic throughout the evening, but said many students “were getting upset, crying and stuff” as the night wore on.
Ashby’s mother and father, who stayed up long into the night watching the news, met their daughter at the station. Her mother, Ny Ashby, 33 was red-eyed as she greeted Nia.
Nia’s father, Ger Ashby, 37, said: “You don’t expect your kid to be unsafe in normal public places like that. It’s hard to process feelings at that point. You kind of just go into the mode of getting them back safe.”
“If I had a certain set of skills then I’d be tracking them down, but I don’t have those skills so we just have to wait at the end of the station.”
The students arrived in Paris around midday on Friday. They had planned to spend the weekend at Paris Photo, a renowned art fair at the Grand Palais, and return tomorrow.
All back safely from Paris. Thank you to the magnificent Miss McKeefry and Mrs Shepherd for their amazing leadership under pressure.
— RiddlesdownC (@RiddlesdownC) November 14, 2015
During the night, Dey and McKeefry communicated with concerned parents via phone, email, and the school’s Twitter account, which was updated as the school attempted to find a way for the students to get home.
Students also called parents from the hostel. Dey said the school commended how both students and staff handled the tragedy. “I’ve had messages today further on saying about how proud Miss McKeefry has felt of the students, how responsible they’ve been. They’ve handled themselves in a way that we’re very proud of.”