Can we talk about Lilian? What do I mean, who’s Lilian? Lilian, Lilian Lepère, to be precise.
I’m not surprised that you didn’t pick up on the name, to be honest, he’s the forgotten man. He’s white, middle class; an ordinary working man – and you know nothing about him. He hasn’t raped anybody, shot anybody, groomed anybody; he’s not a refugee, asylum seeker, or mass murderer; nor is he gay and about to marry an elderly ‘national treasure’; he’s not a celebrity either. Sure, he’s a Frog, with a funny sounding name, but that is no reason why you shouldn’t instantly know of whom I speak .
Lilian Lepère is the unsung Hero of the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ shootings. I bet you knew the name of the murderous nutters who carried out those shootings! You would have recognised them from their photographs and been able to tell me something about them – how they were orphans, marginalised, da dum, da dum.
Had I said Lassana Bathily, and shown you the picture of the Malian (originally an illegal immigrant) Muslim hailed as the ‘Hero’ of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, you would probably have cottoned on sooner. “Lassana Bathily, ‘Malian Muslim,’ hero of the hostage situation in Vincennes” ran the headlines.
But there were two ‘Hero’s’. I don’t want to take anything away from Lassana’s activities – but I am interested in why he has stolen the world wide admiration and headlines – and Lilian has barely been spoken of.
Lassana was at work, and just heading into the freezer in the basement of the Parisian supermarket, when a group (exact number still unknown) of customers came storming down the stairs telling him that there were masked gunmen upstairs. They followed him into the freezer looking for somewhere to hide. He had the wit to turn off the freezer element and the lights and tell them to stop jabbering excitedly otherwise they would give their hiding place away. They had no idea who these men were – it could have been an armed robbery, there had been no particular ‘noise’ about terrorist activity in the immediate area.
The masked gunmen realised there were people down there and began shouting for them to come upstairs or they would all be killed. Some of the customers complied. So did Lessana. Unlike the customers, Lessana knew the layout of the building intimately, and used his knowledge to dodge sideways and escape via the freight elevator. He did escape successfully (understandably, though unforgivably for some people, he was promptly spreadeagled on the floor by the police and questioned at length before they accepted that he was not one of the hostage takers).
From then on, he assisted the police, drawing diagrams to explain exactly where those customers who had ignored the call to come upstairs were hidden, and where, probably, the customers who had gone upstairs might be. He did however, do this from a position of safety, in police hands. He is now hailed as a hero for having saved the life of five ‘Jewish hostages‘ including a child. This figure rises to 15 in some articles – although there were only ever 19 people taken hostage. Four lay dead. That leaves us with a maximum of 15 spread between those already upstairs, those who obeyed orders to go upstairs, and those who remained in the freezer.
Lilian, on the other hand, knew exactly who the masked gunmen that burst into the factory where he worked were. There had been intense police activity in the immediate area for some hours beforehand since the Kouachi brothers were believed to be hiding in nearby woods; he would have been aware that they had murdered 12 people already and were armed, dangerous and on the run. When his boss saw them approaching the door and told him to hide, I doubt he needed any second bidding. He chose a tiny cabinet under the sink that measured 2 foot x 3 foot – it was the only place he could get to unseen from the door.
He stayed there for the next 8 hours, holding his breath as the Kouachis drew water in the sink, and talked in the room. His Boss, Michel Catalano, stayed remarkably calm, making the murderous twosome coffee, and dressing their wounds, unaware that Lilian was hidden under the sink. Eventually the Kouachis rewarded Michels cool head by letting him leave the building.
Leaving Lilian all alone in his cramped hiding place with the Kouachis. Yet he didn’t lose his nerve, didn’t try to escape – he stayed where he was and texted his father, drawing verbal diagrams to explain exactly where the Kouachis were and the layout of the building. He continued to send those text messages for eight hours, all the while bent double in his hiding place. He must have been terrified.
Yet you scarcely know his name. 300,000 people haven’t crowded onto change.org to sign a petition demanding that he be honoured. True, being awarded French citizenship next week wouldn’t mean a lot to him – he is already a French citizen by birth. He doesn’t appear on the front cover of every newspaper world wide.
I rate his actions equally, if not braver, than those of Lessana.
Being a white, male, ordinary working man, just doesn’t have the same appeal for the media, does it?