Bley Mokono was waiting for his son at a restaurant near the Stade de France when he brushed shoulders with a man drenched in sweat. Something seemed off.
Moments later, Mokono was thrown to the ground by a blast.
“I said, ‘My God, not Ryan, not Ryan, not my son,’ ” said Mokono, remembering the moment he was separated from his 13-year-old son during the Paris terror attacks on November 13, 2015.
Months later, Mokono asks himself, “Why didn’t I stop them?”
Mokono and his son, Ryan, headed to the stadium to watch a football match on a seemingly average day. On the way, they made a couple of stops. They grabbed sandwiches and Bley Mokono went to find a bathroom.
‘I thought he was bizarre’
On his way, Mokono noticed a man looking around rapidly.
“He was not at ease,” Mokono continued. “When I looked at him, I felt his discomfort, he just didn’t seem right.”
Mokono walked into a restaurant near the Stade to find the restroom and saw another man behaving similarly.
“When I saw the first one outside, I thought he was bizarre, and when I entered the bathroom, I saw the second person,” Mokono told CNN’s Chris Cuomo ahead of the CNN Special Report “Terror in Paris.”
Mokono went back outside and sent Ryan to the restroom.
“I felt something was not right. I was thinking that something was going to happen. … At that moment something was going to happen,” said Mokono.
That’s when Mokono brushed shoulders with one of the two men, whom he would later learn were suicide bombers.
“We bumped into each other, no hello, not a word, nothing,” said Mokono.
‘On the ground in shreds’
Just minutes later, Mokono felt the blast. He was only 20 feet away when the bomber detonated.
“I see that behind me, people are falling, and me, I’m thrown back,” said Mokono.
He last saw Ryan going into the restaurant. Mokono’s first instinct was to go get his son.
“It’s only Ryan that was in my head at that moment,” he said.
As Mokono walked toward the restaurant’s entrance, he saw the bomber “blown up on the ground in shreds.”
An injured women was on the ground next to him.
“She had blood on her face and pieces of flesh,” Mokono said.
Mokono held out his hand to help her up and realized he was unable to lift her. His right shoulder was injured in the blast. He lifted her with his left arm, and as he tried to help her to safety, another bomb went off.
Not willing to leave her behind, he quickly took her to the French police and then headed back to the restaurant for his son.
Mokono’s heart raced.
“It was beating from the fear of losing my son, from the fear that my son lost his life or that he was killed inside.”
Mokono returned to the restaurant and opened the restroom door. Ryan was gone.
‘It was like a horror film’
Ryan had been washing his hands in the bathroom when the first bomb exploded. He walked out to see the restaurant filled with smoke and the window shattered.
People were escaping through the kitchen, and Ryan followed the crowd.
“It’s like it was a horror film,” Ryan remembered.
Finally, amid the chaos, Mokono spotted his son.
“When I saw my son, I said, ‘Ryan, it’s Dad, I love you. Don’t worry’…He was crying, I was crying and he told me, ‘Dad, you saved lives,’ ” said Mokono.
‘More and more nightmares’
Today, the memories of the terror attacks continue to haunt Mokono and his son. The radical terrorist group ISIS killed 130 people in six attacks across Paris that day.
“People say that we are survivors. Me, I say we are victims,” Mokono said. “We who are victims … we live it with difficulty, because it remains in our memories and in our spirits.”
Both relive the terror in frequent nightmares.
“Sleeping is difficult because the pictures are there,” said Mokono.
Mokono goes to physical therapy for his shoulder and sees a psychologist.
Still, his outlook remains positive and his faith is not shaken.
“I don’t even tell myself that these are Muslims,” Mokono said of the terrorists.
“I look at these situations as the behaviors of barbarians, thugs, fanatics who take people’s lives for reasons we, we don’t grasp,” said Mokono, who is Muslim.
Mokono wants the terrorists to know they have not defeated him.
“You have not taken me away from what is the most important for me, which is love, the love of others, the love of my country, the love for my nation, the love for the world and the love for humanity.”