WATCH ABOVE: French President Francois Hollande calls on nation to unite following deadly shootings
Dominique Karsenti couldn’t believe what he was reading on his Facebook feed: 12 people dead following a terrorist attack in Paris, the city he’s called home for 11 years.
“I thought what is this? And hour after hour, sad news keeps coming in. I don’t know what to say anymore, I’m shocked,” Karsenti said from his home in Paris.
“It’s been a really, really sad day.”
Locals in Paris, dubbed the City of Light, are reeling after hearing news that at 11:30 a.m., masked gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine.
The nation raised its security alert to the highest level as a manhunt for two gunmen began.
Victor Ashe, a creative director of an auction house near the Eiffel Tower, stopped his coworkers once he heard about the attacks.
“I don’t think everyone was scared but we were really shocked. We knew it was an operation, not a random shooting on people, that it was planned,” Ashe told Global News.
He carried on with his day and even said he’d join others flooding over to the 11th arondissement, the neighbourhood where the attack took place. Hundreds of others are also headed over to Place de la Republique. Ash says going to these gatherings are important to him – it’s showing solidarity.
WATCH: Global National’s Stuart Greer reports from Place de la Republique
It doesn’t assuage his concern, though.
“Everyone’s getting paranoid. I don’t know how it’s going to be in the next few days. That’s the big question,” he explained.
Listen: Frenchman Victor Ashe shares his response to the tragic shooting in Paris
Both Ashe and Karsenti are waiting with bated breath to see how officials – and the public – respond to the attacks. They say they’re worried about tension between cultures – an unease and divide that didn’t exist in the metropolitan city before.
“I’m pretty scared that we’ve been hurt for real and not just witnessed what’s happening in Syria or Lebanon or Iraq. The fact that it happened in Paris, in France…it’s going to be quite messy but I hope it’s not going to be like that,” Ashe told Global News.
The Parisian locals say the area Charlie Hebdo is located on is quiet and residential.
While running her errands and taking the Metro, American expat Ally de Groat wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong. The morning was typical, run-of-the-mill.
On her way home, she saw a flatbed truck with metal barricades barrel up St. Germain-des-Pres Boulevard. It was accompanied by two police motorcycles with sirens blaring.
When she got home, a friend emailed her relaying the news. She and her husband turned on the television, mesmerized by what they were seeing just across town.
“I just stayed in, heard some helicopters and watched the news,” de Groat told Global News.
For the American couple, the French attack brought back memories of Sept. 11.
“I didn’t lose anybody close to me, just the idea of it is very present for me as an American. For me, in my life that amount of catastrophe was really the first,” she said.
WATCH: French prosecutor confirms authorities are searching for 3 suspects in Charlie Hebdo shooting
In Paris, she’s come across protests blocking streets, police dressed in riot gear and officers patrolling train stations donning machine guns. It’s “creepy” but de Groat hasn’t felt unsafe in the city.
Wednesday’s shootings might change that impression.
“The nature of it, the abruptness of it, the amount of people dead. They were in a workplace, it was very well orchestrated, the craziness of it all is shocking,” de Groat told Global News.
The weekly magazine has previously drawn condemnation from Muslims and had been repeatedly threatened for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, among other controversial sketches.
A witness who works nearby, Benoit Bringer, told the iTele network he saw multiple masked men armed with automatic weapons at the newspaper’s office in central Paris. The attackers went to the second floor and started firing indiscriminately in the newsroom, said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.
Read more coverage here.