The text came in just as it had gone out almost two years before.
“Es-tu en sécurité?’’ Rose-Eliandre Bellemare asked her big brother Pierre-Edouard as news of Sunday night’s massacre in Las Vegas reached her in Paris.
Same emotion. Same fear. Siblings living on separate continents, bonded by the unthinkable but no longer the unimaginable.
“Are you safe?’’
Just less than two years before, on a Friday the 13th, ISIS terrorists and suicide bombers had targeted a stadium, concert venue and various public spaces in Paris, killing 130 and wounding hundreds. Rose-Eliandre, a gymnast on France’s national team, was living in Paris at the time. It is where Pierre-Edouard was born. Their mother lives about 90 minutes from the city.
Bellemare was traveling with the Flyers to Raleigh-Durham for a Saturday game against the Carolina Hurricanes when the Paris attacks occurred. “My sister was the first person I texted when I heard,’’ Bellemare was saying over the phone.
Her response was immediate: “Je vais bien (I am fine).’’
His response was not, delayed because he was asleep as news hit of a gunman opening fire from a hotel room overlooking a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 58 people at the concert and wounding more than 500.
Hours earlier, at the nearby T-Mobile Arena, Bellemare’s Vegas Golden Knights had lost 5-3 to the San Jose Sharks in the preseason finale for the first-year squad. The early game had prompted dinner plans among the new teammates, and a few even contemplated making the one-mile trek to the concert. Backup goaltender Calvin Pickard had attended the Friday night show.
Instead, a third of the team including Pickard, some with girlfriends, headed to Zuma at The Cosmopolitan nearby for dinner. The attack occurred as they were finishing dinner.
It wasn’t until after 1 a.m. that the lockdown was lifted and they were allowed to leave.
Bellemare, 32, chose to return to his hotel in nearby Summerlin, where he and his wife Hannah ate dinner and had an early night. “We were about to go to bed when I see this happening,’’ he said. “But then it was just a report on the news of like two people dead. I was like, OK, this is crazy …
“When I woke up in the morning my phone was just jammed with texts, people asking me if we were OK …”
And in a heartbeat, he understood what it must have been like for his sister that night in Paris. Immediately, he texted to her what she had texted to him almost two years before. “Je vais bien,” he wrote, and an hour later the two were on the phone together.
“It’s hard to even absorb it — crazy,’’ he said. “Let’s be honest. Neither of those situations was a fun situation.’’
The Knights players have been all over their adopted community since the attacks, doing what they can. A blood drive first. Visiting first responders Tuesday to thank them for their bravery. Wednesday, a visit to area hospitals to do anything they can to relieve, even for seconds, the anguish caused by injury and the loss of loved ones.
“In Paris, you had the athletes there trying to do what they could to support the people,’’ Bellemare said. “We’re trying to do the same thing here.”
Bellemare played professionally in Sweden before trying the NHL, and also had friends in Stockholm when a terrorist hijacked a bus and drove it into a crowd last April, killing five and seriously injuring 14.
“It’s the same feeling every time,’’ he said. “Is this really happening? And you go from that to praying for people.’’
“It’s crazy how one person can affect so many lives. But the easiest part of our job is how we can affect people. This is not something you hope to do, but this is the most humbling part of our job. Just to help people just by being there, to forget if for just a few moments, what happened to them. It’s so humbling. I wish it would never happen again and we would never have to. But it’s the world we live in.’’
The Knights, who open their inaugural season in Dallas Friday night, had already created a goodwill vibe as Las Vegas’s first-ever major professional league franchise. Before this week’s tragedy, anticipation for next Tuesday’s home opener was building for months among the more than 2 million who now call Vegas their permanent home.
Bellemare, who had trouble focusing on hockey that November night in Raleigh almost two years ago, expects it will be extremely tough to do so again on Tuesday.
“We just have to give it our all,’’ he said. “So that the people — we just give the love back to them right from the beginning. They’re already trusting us, they’re already there for us, they already want to support us. We have to make ourselves a team they can be proud of.’’