County manager in Paris during attack

Published 9:51 am Thursday, November 19, 2015

Forty-five minutes and a few miles.

That’s all that separated Davie County Manager Mike Ruffin and his wife, Robbie, from the spray of gunfire that took the lives of 15 people at the Parisian restaurant, Le Petit Cambodge, one of the areas hit during the deadly Friday the 13th Isis-led rampage.

Ruffin is still reeling from how close they were.

“The restaurant where we had our farewell dinner was about five miles from downtown and about three miles from the stadium. We ate upstairs so we would have been trapped. On the way back to the hotel, we passed a caravan of police vehicles and we thought something was going on but we didn’t know what,” Ruffin said Monday.

It was the last meal, the last day of a 14-day trip of a lifetime to Europe, the culmination of a year’s worth of planning. The Ruffins went to England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Germany, and their last two days were spent in Paris, where, Ruffin noted, there is a “significant Muslim presence.”

There were 50 people on the tour the Ruffins were on, 35 of whom were American. They saw some beautiful places, and Ruffin said his personal favorite was Lucerne, Switzerland.

“Robbie’s ancestors are from there, so it’s a place she has always wanted to see,” he said. “It was very clean, very beautiful. One day we went on top of a mountain and the views were unparalleled and just absolutely beautiful.”

Another highlight was seeing the Pope come out onto a balcony at Vatican City.

But while there were many memories created on their trip, perhaps none will stand out as vividly as their last night.

Back at the hotel after dinner, the Ruffins started getting frantic texts from their four adult children wanting to know if they were alright. At that point, he said, they had no idea what was going on. Their hotel was on lockdown. Subways closed, and so did the borders. Their flight out was the next morning, and they had no idea if they would be able to leave or not. Trying to watch French television proved confounding because of the language barrier, and the news came to them in bits and pieces.

Ruffin said they respond to emergencies differently there than here, and there was a great deal of confusion. They got varying reports of casualties and at times, wondered if they were even safe in their hotel.

Fortunately, they were able to leave in the morning and head to the airport, where, Ruffin said, security was tight, but not as much as what he encountered once back in the States.

“In Philadelphia, we had a connecting flight, and they checked my bag twice. I’m diabetic and had liquid medicine in there, and I finally said ‘Just take it, we’re going to miss our flight’.”

By Saturday night, they were back.

“There was no better feeling in the world than when we touched down in Charlotte,” he said. “When Dorothy said there’s no place like home, I sure feel that.”