Metro Atlanta mourns for Paris

Staff writers Michael Kanell, Carrie Teegardin, Gracie Bonds Staples and Tammy Joyner contributed to this report.

Church bells tolled. Heads bowed. Hundreds attended a vigil for the dead. For some, anger flared against the forces of terror. Others reached for peace. All wondered what’s next.

Across metro Atlanta Sunday, people came together in houses of worship and at a community vigil to mourn with the world over the Paris terror attacks, which killed at least 130 people and wounded more than 350.

People said they felt a strong desire to support the French after Friday’s massacre. But beyond the shared hugs and tears, people offered a variety of opinions on what form that support should take. Was it time to take up arms beside the French, or work harder for peace?

Amid the hundreds standing vigil at the French consulate in Buckhead on Sunday, Russell Hodges Jr. held a silver coin and small note. The note asked the consul general to deliver the coin to a family of one of the lost. The coin featured Jesus Christ on the cross, with the words “Agony, passion, salvation.”

Hodges felt the need to comfort, and to avenge. A retired Marine, he said the attacks constituted acts of war and that the U.S. should stand with France in fighting to stop such violence, once and for all.

“We need to form a coalition much more stringent than we have now,” said Hodges, 53, of Conyers.

Moreover, as he moved among the tightly packed crowd at the Buckhead Tower, Hodges watched people’s hands and movements, concerned that even this event might be a target. Several people said they worried that similar atrocities might come to a major U.S. city, possibly even Atlanta.

A piece of candy

Estelle Ostrzega of Vinings agreed that America must assume a war footing. She’s 78, but the attacks brought her back to her days as a child in France during World War II. She was 7 when the Allies liberated her loved ones, and she remembers an American soldier giving her a piece of candy.

“I’ll never forget the taste,” she said.

Rachel Norwood also attended the vigil, where people cheered the inspiring words of Consul General Denis Barbet. Norwood stood with the crowd and sang the French national anthem.

“This is a very tenuous time for the whole world,” said Norwood, 51, of Tucker. But she felt more violence was not the answer.

“I’m a pacifist,” she said. “Certainly I want the perpetrators caught and stopped. But I think we should focus on the healing.”

Soraya Mekerta, who is Muslim, mourned the victims of this “horror” but worried that the desire to strike back would lead to more prejudice against people of her faith. She does not look to a military solution, favoring more outreach and talks.

“I hope we really try to understand the perspective of the people who commit these acts,” she said.

‘Sending our love’

People placed flowers, candles and personal notes at a makeshift memorial outside the consulate, over which flew the flags of the U.S., France and Georgia, all at half-staff. One note read, “Sending our love, our prayers and our hearts to the French people.”

Florence Beauredon said that even as she prays for peace, she hopes the U.S. and France combine their might to battle for a value they share — freedom. She found it hard to talk after Friday night’s events. So she turned to painting.

On Sunday, she brought the result with her to the vigil. It was a painting of the Eiffel Tower, the French flag and, in one corner, a bloody hand-print. She said the hand represented the terrorists’ attempt to damage freedom.

“But our flag is still flying,” she said.

Some people had no answer for what should happen next. For them it was enough just to show support.

“I just wanted to express my concern about the events in France,” said John Decker, 54, of Buckhead.

Barbet, the French consul general in Atlanta, recalled a March down the streets of Atlanta earlier this year after the terror attack at a French magazine.

“We hoped that was the last time we had to deal with terrorism and bigotry,” Barbet said. “We were wrong.”

‘We take freedom for granted’

Religious leaders across the Atlanta area addressed the attacks in Sunday sermons, offering solace and spiritual guidance.

“Sometimes we take freedom for granted,” co-pastor Kenneth Alexander told those at Antioch Baptist Church North in downtown Atlanta. “Let’s pray for those who are being terrorized.”

Pastor Tim Dowdy focused on the horrors of the wicked.

“It’s horrific what the wickedness of men will carry out in the world,” Dowdy told the congregation of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough. “Lives have been forever changed. We also need to pray for those wicked men, that God will work in such a way that (they) will come to know Him and their hearts will be changed.”

Saturday morning, Rabbi Melvin Sirner asked the congregation at Congregation Shearith Israel in Morningside to join in a prayer for peace.

“For all who live on earth shall realize we have not come into being to hate or to destroy,” the congregation of 100 read aloud. “We have come into being to praise, to labor, and to love.”

‘How long, O Lord?”

At historic St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, the Rev. Dan Matthews Jr. devoted his entire sermon to the Paris events.

As the pastor spoke, a bell began tolling. Matthews spoke slowly, in cadence with the ringing.

“We ask, how long, O Lord?” he said. “It took place in Paris, France. But the location is irrelevant. Because what happened on Friday happened to all of humanity everywhere.”

With each statement, another bell sounded from the church organ.

Each toll, he said, represented a life “extinguished by fear, extinguished by bigotry, extinguished by hate.”

Then the pastor asked everyone to observe in silence, and to “pray fervently to God that these bells never ring again.”

Then, as the morning sun streamed through the stained glass windows, the sanctuary stood without a sound, save for the bell tolling, again and again.