Lilian Lepère, the graphic designer who hid in the print works where the Charlie Hebdo gunmen were holed up from police, has spoken of his ordeal to the media.
It was initially believed that Lepère had been taken hostage by the Kouachi brothers but reports soon emerged that he had spent the entirety of the siege hidden under a sink, going undetected despite coming within centimetres of the gunmen.
In an emotional interview with France 2 TV, the 26-year-old spoke of his gratitude to his boss, Michael Catalano, who diverted the attention of the brothers by offering them coffee in another room.
Holding back tears Lepère responded: “I want to say thank you, he gave me the time I needed to hide. If they had found me, if we had been two hostages instead of one, maybe things would have been different. It’s thanks to him that I am here today. I’ll never be able to thank him enough.”
On Friday, January 9, print works owner Catalano spotted the suspected Paris shooters coming towards his building with Kalashnikovs and a rocket launcher and instructed his younger employee to hide. Lepère fled to another room and hid under a sink, where he was trapped for more than eight hours in a space measuring 70cm by 90cm by 50 cm deep.
“Most of the time they were in the boss’s office next door… After the first shooting with the police one of them opened the cupboard just next to mine. He went towards the fridge and asked his associate if he wanted to drink something. He was 50 cm away from me. I thought he was going to open every cupboard.
“He drank from the sink just above me. I heard the water running above my head because my head was against the sink. I could see his shadow through the little gap in the door… It was like in the films.”
Asked what he was thinking at the time, Lepère responded: “The brain stops thinking, the heart stops beating, you stop breathing.”
Trapped in the fetal position, unable to move for fear of making a noise, it was a while before Lepère managed to retrieve his phone from his pocket to send vital information by text message to police outside.
“I said to myself, I have to do it, even if it makes a noise, I have to take the risk.”
The first people Lepère contacted were his family and friends who told him they were with the police. It was then that he was able to give information about what he could hear and his knowledge of the building.
Describing the moment the police assault began, Lepère said: “My first feeling was freedom because I had been waiting for eight hours. I was in incredible pain everywhere, eight hours without moving… I curled up, protecting my head.”
As the police entered the building Lepère disobeyed his instructions to stay put and fled to the other end of the room, convinced that the Kouachi brothers had booby trapped the building.
“Then I heard voices, the door opened and I saw the light. They guided me to a window and brought me out where a doctor was waiting.”
The three days of bloodshed had eventually came to an end after the brothers, who never knew about their second hostage, emerged from the building and opened fire on police before being killed.