Son of JFRD dispatcher toured cathedral hours before fire

Shock, prayers around the world for Notre Dame Cathedral

By Joy Purdy - 5:30, 6:30 & 11 p.m. anchor, Andrew Selsky

PARIS - The world reacted with shock, horror and prayers to the massive fire Monday at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, united in grief and in solidarity with the people of France.

As the flames tore through the 12th-century cathedral, Spain's prime minister offered France the help of his country in the recovery.

The fire is a "catastrophe for France, for Spain and for Europe," Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted, adding that the flames are destroying "850 years of history, architecture, painting and sculpture."

Yulee resident Brycen Gagnon was there vacationing, when he caught video of the Notre Dame cathedral's spire crumbling in the flames. Brycen, who's mom is a dispatcher for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, told News4Jax he couldn't believe that just a few hours earlier he had toured the majestic cathedral.

"It was heartbreaking to be in there maybe three hours before. I was walking around, soaking everything in, looking at all the history," Gagnon said. 

Gagnon was heading to a hostel when he saw the fire in the distance.

"I saw the cloud of smoke and just people everywhere. There (were) bikes stopped in the middle of the road, there were commuters, cars, buses, you name it. There were people everywhere. You couldn't move," he said. "Everyone was just stopped looking up."

Still shocked by what he witnessed, Gagnon said it was hard to digest what happened on his vacation to Paris.

"It's disbelief, honestly," Gagnon said. "I keep standing out here, just looking at it and having to check and be sure, did this really happen?"

French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters near the scene that he will seek international help, including from the "greatest talents" in the world, to rebuild Notre Dame.

President Donald Trump, speaking at the start of an appearance in Minnesota, spoke of the "terrible, terrible fire" that devastated "one of the great treasures of the world."

"It's a part of our growing up, it's a part of our culture, it's a part of our lives," Trump said of the landmark.

The Notre Dame Cathedral, situated on an island in the Seine River in the heart of Paris, is one of the world's most visited tourist destinations, drawing some 13 million people each year. The fire's emotional impact was widely felt. People from all over described in Facebook posts how they cried when they heard about the fire.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama posted an old photo of himself, his wife Michelle and their two daughters lighting candles in the cathedral.

"Notre Dame is one of the world's great treasures, and we're thinking of the people of France in your time of grief," Obama said on Twitter. Michelle Obama, who was in Paris on Monday on a book tour, said "my heart aches with the people of France."

"The majesty of Notre Dame - the history, artistry, and spirituality - took our breath away, lifting us to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be," she tweeted. She predicted the cathedral would rise again.

The Vatican said Pope Francis "has seen with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, symbol of Christianity in France and in the world."

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, prayed at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan for intercession.

"God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze," Dolan said in a statement.

Jeff Ament, bass player for Pearl Jam, remembered spending hours at the cathedral in his first visit, in 1991, with record executive Michael Goldstone.

"Thinking about Paris," Ament tweeted, with photos of the cathedral.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted that he's "horrified," calling the cathedral "a unique example of world heritage."

In Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church's secretary for inter-Christian relations Hieromonk Stefan called the fire "a tragedy for the entire Christian world and for all who appreciate the cultural significance of this temple," the state news agency RIA-Novosti reported:

On Twitter, Trump suggested using planes to drop water on the flames. France's Civil Security agency said that wasn't feasible.

"All means are being used, except for water-bombing aircrafts which, if used, could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral," the agency tweeted.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.