Less than an hour after the band started playing, a highly anticipated concert in Paris turned into a bloodbath.
Julien Pearce, a French radio reporter, bought tickets six months ago for Friday night’s Eagles of Death Metal concert at Le Bataclan nightclub. He was there with a group of friends, enjoying the show from a spot close to the stage, when the sound of gunshots pierced the air.
“At first, I thought it was part of the show,” Pearce, who works for Europe 1, told NBC News. “The leader of the band, the previous song before everything happened, said to the crowd, ‘Let’s do a prayer.’ And so at that moment, we thought it was ironic.”
But it became apparent to Pearce and the rest of the crowd that had packed into Le Bataclan when they saw attackers, dressed all in black and wielding assault rifles, that this wasn’t a part of the show.
“They were shooting randomly toward us, toward the crowd,” Pearce said. “They tried to kill as many people as possible, and they were very calm. They reloaded many times.”
The attack was one of many in a coordinated terror assault in France Friday that left 129 dead and more than 350 wounded. The nightclub endured the worst of the carnage of all the locations attacked.
Pearce told NBC News that concertgoers dropped to the floor and played dead as gunmen — three or four traipsed through the nightclub, he said — fired at random. After a few minutes on the ground, Pearce realized he would be killed if he didn’t move.
“We had to find an exit. At least to try,” he said.
So when the gunmen paused to reload their weapons, Pearce and about 10 others around him rushed the stage, scaling a barrier to get off the concert floor. They took shelter in a small room on the right side of the stage.
“When I arrived there, there were already 10 to 15 people in it, hiding and panicking,” he said.
The panic grew when a staff member in the room told the group that there was no exit to the outside in the room.
“You just escaped from a trap to another one. A safer one for now, but it’s not over yet,” Pearce said.
On the opposite side of the stage, there was a door that did lead outside. Pearce eyed it. The stage was at least 20 meters (65 feet) across, he estimated.
“It’s not that long when you look at it. But when you know that you have possibly four Kalashnikovs [rifles] aiming at you at the same time, it’s very long,” he said.
Again, Pearce and the others waited for the gunmen to reload. Then they went for it.
“We made it. Some of us,” he said.
While he darted across the stage that just 40 minutes prior had been used by one of his favorite rock groups, he glanced out to the audience and saw a “bloodbath.”
“I just saw a mass killing. Dozens and dozens of bodies. And people screaming,” he said. “It was horrible.”
The gunfire lasted for 15 minutes, he estimated.
“They were killing machines. They were determined. They knew exactly what they were doing.”
Before escaping out the stage door, Pearce heard screams that stopped him in his tracks. A teenage girl who had been shot twice in the leg was on the ground, begging for help.
“I took her and I put her on my shoulder, and I just ran outside in the street. We were still hearing gunshots at that moment, so we were unsure if the bullets were for us or for the people who remained in the theater.”
Despite being covered in blood — from the girl he hoisted onto his shoulders and from other victims — Pearce made it out unscathed. The experience was surreal.
“I was telling to myself, is it for real? And I put some of the blood in my mouth to taste it just to make sure it wasn’t fake. Just to make sure I wasn’t in a nightmare.”
ISIS claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks, which French President Francois Hollande described as an “act of war.”
The nation has been on alert since January, when Islamic extremists attacked satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store. In his job for Europe 1, Pearce was one of the first reporters to cover the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
“Today I feel half a victim, half a reporter … which was not the case for Charlie Hebdo. I was just a reporter, a very sad reporter,” he said.
Pearce questioned why he had survived the nightclub assault.
“I feel horrible for all these persons who aren’t alive just a few inches away from me. You keep saying to yourself, ‘Why them and not you? What made the difference?’” he asked.
“I’m alive and I’m grateful to be alive.”
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com.