‘We had no idea why people were running’: Bendigo digital journalist Cassandra Dalgleish on the Barcelona attack

RELATED: Barcelona terror attack: Van ploughs into crowd in Spanish city

BENDIGO-based Fairfax digital journalist Cassandra Dalgleish and her partner Matthew Schilling were in Barcelona at the time of the attacks.

Ms Dalgleish said the pair was in Placa Nova, heading back to their accommodation in the late afternoon, when suddenly the crowd started running towards them.

“We had no idea why people were running - whether it was a joke or something more serious,’’ she said.

“We hesitated for a few moments, then ran with the crowd back to the square we’d just left.”

After the crowd stopped running, Ms Dalgleish looked ahead and saw a young woman speaking in anguish to her family, but she could not understand what was said.

Placa Nova in Barcelona, where the travellers first became aware something was wrong. This photo was taken hours later, with only a few people still left in the streets. Picture: CASS DALGLEISH

Placa Nova in Barcelona, where the travellers first became aware something was wrong. This photo was taken hours later, with only a few people still left in the streets. Picture: CASS DALGLEISH

Around them, others varied between mildly curious about the incident, concerned, and oblivious.

Ms Dalgleish and Mr Schilling talked with another couple and speculated reasons for the running, from a loose bull or a mad gunman, to free sales somewhere.

After a few minutes, Ms Dalgleish and Mr Schilling decided they were safe to return along their path back home.

They rounded a corner, when suddenly the crowd started running again.

“This time we didn’t even hesitate to join them – we just ran back from where we’d just come, unsure what we were even running from,’’ Ms Dalgleish said.

The couple ended up back in the square they’d started in – about 500 metres from the site of the attack. As the sound of sirens filled the air, the couple knew they had to move.

Ms Dalgleish said they decided to take a longer way back to the hotel, which was also close to the attack. But when, while on the streets, the crowds started running in the opposite direction for a third time, they realised there was no chance.

“We were checking Twitter, Facebook and Google, trying to find any information for what was going on,’’ Ms Dalgleish said.

“We had no idea. I was guessing a gunman, or a car had driven into pedestrians.

“After running for the third time – the scariest time – we stopped to ask some people what they knew, and they told us it was a terrorist attack.”

Ms Dalgleish and Mr Schilling ended up blocks away from their original site. Around them, metro train stations went into lockdown and the streets were blocked off. As news sites started reporting breaking news of a van hitting pedestrians, they knew they had to get off the streets and into safety.

People started running down this street in Barcelona, about 500 metres away from where the attacks took place. Picture: CASS DALGLEISH

People started running down this street in Barcelona, about 500 metres away from where the attacks took place. Picture: CASS DALGLEISH

They went into a supermarket, where the staff provided them space in the back room to hold tight and wait for any news.

A few hours later, it was deemed safe enough for them to leave the supermarket.

“We were watching YouTube on the TV, trying to find out news. We had Matt’s phone refreshing news sites constantly,’’ Ms Dalgleish said.

“It was horrific to sit there and, for the first time, see footage of the attacks that had just taken place. It was terrible to watch as the death and injury tolls climbed.

“The supermarket owners were beautiful and did their best to keep us comfortable and make us safe. It was hard to express our gratitude.”

The couple finally emerged from the supermarket after 8pm – more than three hours after they were first aware something was wrong. To get back to their hotel took another hour and a half, with many of the roads blocked off by police. Sirens continued to wail intermittently, and choppers circled the skies.

Ms Dalgleish said it was an awful experience for both tourists and locals in Barcelona.

But she said she would not allow it to affect the couple’s future travelling plans.

The story ‘We had no idea why people were running’ first appeared on The Stawell Times-News.

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