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Reporter's notebook: Following a terror attack survivor's story

Following Sebastien Bellin's journey

Correspondent Vladimir Duthiers reflects on covering the terrorist attack in Brussels and meeting Sebastien Bellin, a victim of the bombings. Bellin had severe injuries to his legs and hip and nearly died. Duthiers followed Bellin’s recovery for eight months. His story is featured on the “48 Hours” episode, “The Long Road Home,” airing Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

Throughout the course of my career, tragically, I have had to cover terrorist attacks all around the world. They always leave you with a sense of loss, a sense of devastation, a sense of wanting to do more, a sense of wanting to learn more about the people you cover, the families, the survivors. It’s always hard because you are moving on to the next story, moving on to the next assignment.

Sneak peek: The Long Road Home

When terrorists attacked Paris in November of 2015, it was especially difficult for me because I had spent almost a third of my life living in Paris, had family there, and it hit really close to home. Then, months later when the attacks in Brussels happened, I had that same sense of devastation because I had also lived in Belgium. 

I covered both attacks in Paris and Brussels and while in Brussels, I had the opportunity to meet one of the victims of the terrorist bombings at the airport, Sebastien Bellin. This is a man who has two beautiful daughters, a wife that loves him, doing what most of us do, travelling on business. 

And then, a bomb goes off. 

He becomes instantly famous for all the wrong reasons. He becomes famous because he is lying in a pool of blood with his legs shattered and we get to meet him just days after he has been hit in that terrorist attack.

The journey I have had with Sebastien Bellin, from the moment I met him lying in a hospital bed just days after the attack, to where he is today, has been incredibly moving for me. To follow a journey like his is something I never had a chance to do before. From the day we met, we instantly built a connection. It is a connection that I have never had in my career with someone who has been affected by something so terrible. 

Even when he was broken, bruised and shattered, I could feel, coming off of him, this immense strength, and it frankly enveloped me. It made me want to know him better and it made me want to understand how he could be so strong just days after being hit by terrorist bombs.

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CBS News’ Vladimir Duthiers, left, with Brussels bomb attack survivor Sebastien Bellin "48 Hours"

We got to meet Seb’s wife, Sara, his daughters, his father and brothers. They all welcomed us with open arms. It’s something that I am grateful for and it’s something I will never forget. I have made a friend for life, which in some ways goes against the norms for journalism. I can see my journalism professors scolding me for getting so close to somebody you are reporting on, somebody whose story you are trying to tell to the world.  

I do feel in sharing Sebastien’s story, it will let other survivors, other people who have had to live through the scourge of terrorism, see something in him that will hopefully help them, in some small way, get through their days.