Supporters of France, press freedom rally in Squirrel Hill
This week's fit of terror in Paris broke Fred Rongier's heart.
The French-born Rongier said the outpouring of support he's received from Pittsburghers since Wednesday's shocking assault on the weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo is helping to put it back together.
“It has been very moving. So many people have said, ‘We are with you,' ” said Rongier, who owns East Liberty's Paris 66 bistro and the Squirrel Hill patisserie Gaby et Jules.
Rongier was among about 150 people who gathered Friday night outside the French honorary consul's home in Squirrel Hill to solemnly recognize victims of the terror in Paris and to express support for France and press freedom.
The group included Pittsburghers and members of Western Pennsylvania's small French expatriate community, which numbers about 800.
“I am overwhelmed by the turnout. It really warms my heart ,and it is a great show of solidarity,” said Myriam Gau, vice president of the French Cultural Center of Pittsburgh.
Abe and Allyson Delnore of Highland Park came with their children, Eli, 8, and Sebastian, 4. The Delnores, both Americans, lived in France when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred and received an outpouring of support from people in France.
“We felt it was important to show our support for them now,” Allyson Delnore said.
With the temperature hovering around 12 degrees, the bundled-up crowd along Beechwood Avenue silently held up pens, signs and candles in a show of support.
“This was a spontaneous initiative made by the local French community,” Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, honorary consul of France in Pittsburgh, said. “It is a good thing that French people and non-French people are gathering together. There are some common values to be recognized and defended.”
About 800 French expats live in the Pittsburgh area, and about 30 American subsidiaries of French companies are based here.
“We have a strong French community in Pittsburgh,” said Mayor Bill Peduto, holding a pen in one hand and a sign reading “Je suis Charlie” in the other. He said he intends to send a personal letter to the mayor of Paris.
“Our hearts are with the people of Paris, and we also strongly support the freedom of the press. It is the foundation of a true democracy,” Peduto said.
French authorities appeared to end the terror spree earlier Friday, killing three terrorists who took hostages at separate locations. Two of them carried out the military-style assault that left 12 dead at Charlie Hebdo, known for controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad and satirizing other religious and public figures.
Those attending Friday's event said they pray there won't be aftershocks of violence.
“We are very happy the situation is under control for now, but we are afraid there could be copycats,” the French Cultural Center's Gau said.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.