Staff arrive to attend an editorial meeting of French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo and Liberation, Jan. 9, 2015 in Paris.
Bertrand Guay—AFP/Getty Images
Updated: January 9, 2015 12:56 PM ET | Originally published: January 9, 2015 7:17 AM EST

Like most buildings in Paris, the one that houses Paris’s satirical paper Charlie Hebdo in the city’s 11th district has a security keypad outside, which requires residents to tap in a code before the front door clicks open. That might have been the sole obstacle the masked gunmen faced when they sprang from their car on Wednesday just before midday in the opening seconds of France’s biggest terror attack in generations. Their problem was solved by the arrival at that very moment of one of the paper’s cartoonists.

Corinne Rey, known by her pen name “Coco”, was racing to attend the weekly editorial meeting. She had just picked up her small daughter from a pre-school center and brought her to the office. “I had gone to fetch my daughter at day-care, and when I arrived at the door of the building of the paper two men, hooded and armed, brutally threatened us,” she said in an interview with the French newspaper L’Humanité, saying they demanded to know the door code.

Rey told police the men — the prime suspects are brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, 34 and 32 — spoke perfect French and said they were from al Qaeda. “They wanted to enter, to go upstairs,” she said.

Once inside the building, they killed the security guard in the lobby, before racing upstairs, where they opened fire on the staff members. “They shot [cartoonist Wolinski, Cabu,” she told L’Humanité, naming renowned French cartoonists Georges Wolinksi and Jean Cabut, who were among eight journalists killed in Wednesday’s attack.

There seems to be one reason Rey and her daughter survived the massacre: They were female.

In a separate interview with Radio France Internationale, Sigolène Vinson, a reporter for Charlie Hebdo, said she had crawled along a passage to escape the gunfire, when one of the gunmen spotted her and aimed his weapon at her, before opting not to pull the trigger. “I’m not killing you because you are a woman and we don’t kill women but you have to convert to Islam, read the Qu’ran and wear a veil,” she said.

That detail became highly relevant on Friday, when the suspects took a woman hostage in a commercial building just 25 miles northeast of Paris. The brothers were killed after a prolonged standoff with police; their hostage reportedly escaped the assault.

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