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BC Student in Parliament During London Attack Reflects on Experience

Andressa Quadros, MCAS ’18, is studying abroad in London and was in Parliament during the attack on Wednesday. In a phone interview Sunday, she described the moments after the attack and the confusion-filled hours that followed.

Quadros is in an external program through Boston University. She began an internship in late February working for Ian Lucas, a member of Parliament in the Labour Party.

“My internship experience so far has been amazing,” she said. “My office has the most spectacular view of Westminster Bridge. I am at the desk that’s right near the window.”

Quadros did not realize that the beautiful view of the bridge would one day be the setting of an attack in the heart of London.

On the day of the attack, Quadros was doing case work in her office on the third floor. At 2 p.m. she decided to take a lunch break and went to a smaller room on the second floor to eat. Like her office, the room also had a clear view of the Westminster Bridge. Quadros was on her computer, with her earphones in, watching a video on professional horseback riding, when all of a sudden she was startled by an officer behind her.

“I feel somebody yank my hair,” she said. “I turn around, and it’s a police officer, and he has the most distressed face. And he grabs me, yanks my earphones off, and he tells me ‘get away from the window—a police officer has just been shot in the head outside the palace.’”

It was around 2:40 p.m., Quadros said, and the details of the attack were not clear. At the time, people believed an officer had been shot, not stabbed. The officer rushed out to evacuate people from other rooms.

“The first thing that came to my mind was that the shooter was in the building.”

—Andressa Quadros, MCAS ’18

“At that point there was nobody in the area, and I started to panic,” she said.

Quadros peeked into the main lobby, usually bustling with members of Parliament, to find it empty. She noticed one police officer walking through, patrolling the area.

“The first thing that came to my mind was that the shooter was in the building,” she said.

She ran into a bathroom, locked herself in the last stall, and sat on the floor. The stall door was large and went from the floor to the ceiling, so she felt protected. She tried to call her father, her mother, and her internship supervisor, but none of them picked up their phones. This was the moment, Quadros said, where she began to fear for her life.

She then texted her internship supervisor in a panic.

“Ian … there’s been a shooting. I’m locked in a stall. Where should I go?”

Quadros was only in the stall for about a minute, but it felt much longer. She left the bathroom when she heard police officers outside the door. Once in the hallway, an officer quickly escorted her to a large committee room where many of the other staffers were being kept. Quadros remembers trembling, trying to piece together what was happening.

The signal in the room was not good, so she began to send voice messages to her mother through WhatsApp explaining that there was an attack on Parliament, but she was safe. She asked her family to turn on the television and tell her what was happening because many people in the building had trouble getting a signal on their cell phones to watch the news.

“Nobody knew what was going on,” Quadros said. “[But] they were all really calm, nobody was in panic.”

Quadros then received a message from her brother that said the officer was stabbed, not shot. At the same time, her mother was sending her voice messages, trying to keep Quadros calm and collected.

There was an air of confusion in the room, as people began to wonder if the attack on the bridge was performed by the same person as the attack on the Parliament. People questioned whether the attack was made by one or two people.

After about 20 minutes in the room, Quadros was told she could go back to her office to retrieve her things. When she arrived back in the office, she looked out her window at the Westminster Bridge. Bodies covered in blankets were scattered along the bridge. She saw several ambulances with blaring lights and pedestrians tending to other people. This sight was far different from her usual view of the picturesque bridge.

Just as she was about to grab her things, an officer entered the room and told everyone inside to quickly move to another room in the back area of Parliament. The building was going on lockdown. Quadros was still trembling and felt lightheaded, but kept her composure.

“I wasn’t scared,” she said. “I knew everything was going to be okay.”

Over the next few hours, people inside the building tracked the news and began to learn the details. They learned the attack was made by one person who injured 30 people on the bridge and stabbed an officer in the head.

The attacker was later identified as Khalid Masood, age 52. His attack on Westminster Bridge and in Parliament was over within 82 seconds, according to police. Four people, including Masood, were killed, and over 50 were injured during the attack.

At around 7 p.m., the people inside were let out of the building through a back entrance of Parliament. Quadros saw Lucas, her MP, who asked if she was alright and told her that he expected to see her in the office the next day. He said that people cannot be intimidated and must continue to live their daily lives.

Although inspired by Lucas’s words, Quadros was too shocked to go into work the next day. She spent Thursday locked inside her dorm room, monitoring the news and giving interviews to radio stations in her home country of Colombia. She left her room once that day to attend the vigil at Trafalgar Square, just a few minutes from where the attack occurred.

As Quadros reflected on the events of the previous day, she realized that the place where the officer was stabbed, an entrance for employees, was a place she walks through most days. On the first day of her internship she took a picture of Big Ben from that spot. Little did she know that it would one day be the location of an attack.

Quadros went back into the office on Friday at the instruction of her parents and internship supervisor. As she entered the building, a security guard approached her. She expected the guard to ask for her pass, but he instead asked her what flavor of coffee she was drinking with a smile on his face. Quadros was surprised by how normal the people of London were acting just two days after the attack.

“Witnessing a terror attack was a horrible experience, and yet truly eye-opening at the same time,” she said. “It makes you realize life is not just the safe bubble I was use to living in.”

Featured Image Courtesy of The Associated Press

March 26, 2017