The chain of terrorist attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris on Nov. 13 was deeply personal for Kethia Harris. Harris was not only friends with Nohemi Gonzalez, the young American woman who died in Paris, but she had also grown up in the same French town as one of the terrorists.
“Courcouronnes is such a small city,” said Harris, a 25-year-old interior designer currently living in Los Angeles. “We might have crossed paths.”
But Harris doesn’t remember ever meeting Omar Mostefai, the 29-year-old who shot at dozens of Parisians at Bataclan Concert Hall before he threw himself into the crowd and activated his suicide bomber’s vest.
As shocking as it was to hear that the terrorist had lived in Courcouronnes, a quiet French suburb where Harris climbed trees and picked chestnuts as a child, she was not entirely surprised. She had become somewhat desensitized to terror.
“You hear about these terrorist attacks so often, one after the other, back-to-back,” she said.
On the same day as the Paris attacks, a suicide bomber in Baghdad killed 18 people.
One day before the Paris attacks, two suicide bombings in Beirut claimed 43 civilian lives.
“It’s come to a point where you just have to be careful wherever you go,” Harris said. “I’m not sure I can go anywhere. It’s almost like we can’t even really live.”
Although Harris’s friends and family in France were safe, her American friend was not.
Her voice softened as she spoke of her friend Nohemi Gonzalez, who died in a restaurant during one of the Paris attacks. Gonzalez was a 23-year-old senior studying abroad in Paris.
Harris and Gonzalez knew each other from school. They both studied design at California State University–Long Beach. Harris remembers having bubble tea with Gonzalez right before she left for Paris in the summer.
Harris remembered how they giggled when Gonzalez offered a spunky correction after someone pronounced Gonzalez’s name wrong.
“She liked to play around and laugh with people,” Harris recalled. “She was very energetic, very sweet, very optimistic.”
Friends remembered Gonzalez, a first generation Mexican-American from El Monte, California, as a hard worker with a lively personality.
Hundreds gathered at the campus in Long Beach for a vigil on Nov. 15. to commemorate Gonzalez and the other 128 people who died in Paris.
The memory of Gonzalez has inspired Harris and her friends to let go of grudges and cherish life.
“I reconnected with three people I love so much over the weekend,” she said. “We dropped all the drama. Today, I want to make sure everybody I love knows I love them.”
“She seemed so forgiving and open to a conversation,” Harris said of Gonzalez. “She didn’t seem to have a barrier toward people and was always friendly. I know now that I should be living life fully and not be so afraid of today’s world.”