In less than 3 minutes, the Promenade des Anglais went from one of the most beautiful spots in the world to a horrific body-strewn massacre. At 10:26pm on July 14, 2016, in the middle of the French Independence Day Bastille Day fireworks display, a 31-year-old man in a rented 19-ton cargo truck flicked off his headlights and hit the gas, deliberately plowing into the crowds at nearly 60mph (90km/hr), zigzagging on and off the sidewalk to mow down as many people as possible.
Within minutes the seaside was strewn with bodies, blood and screaming; the final count was 86 dead and over 450 wounded. The count would have been even worse if it wasn’t for the immense courage of Franck Terrier, a local man who caught up to the truck on his scooter, which he then threw under the wheels of the truck as he jumped onto the driver’s side running board and started punching the driver. The driver had a pistol but before he could fire it at Franck all the commotion caused him to stall the truck, giving police a clean shot. Thanks to Franck, the truck came to a bloody stop in front of the Palais de Méditerranée Hotel, thankfully before it had a chance to careen though the most-crowded part of the Promenade across from the Old Town, saving untold lives.
As the week went on, the Promenade des Anglais turned into a sequestered crime scene, then to a spontaneous memorial with shocked and silent mourners covering each and every blood stain with flowers, candles, notes, photos, and stuffed animals. The Prom remained closed most of the week as these early piles of flowers grew into mountains…
Every day I walked the trace of the carnage, passing so, so many piles of flowers… and every day, the final stack sent cold shivers: a circle of people silently staring at a pile of dirt and rocks in the middle of the road, the spot where the killer was finally shot dead. People spit on it as they passed, or violently flung another handful of dirt. Many of the stones contained anguished messages like “Assassin!” “Burn in Hell!” and “Why, why, why??”
A ceremony was held on the Prom which attracted 40,000 mourners, all still in shock but with some still lashing out, searching for someone, anyone, to blame for this unimaginably senseless act.
That night, knowing that the Prom had to eventually reopen, hundreds of people gathered in the moonlight to create a mile-long human chain, passing all the flowers, notes and toys, one-by-one, from the spot where each victim was felled, to a memorial at the gazebo, and when that was full, they lined the seaside.
One week later, the Promenade des Anglais was open, and if you lived in a cave and had no knowledge of what transpired, you would not know that anything was out of whack until passing the stretch that was lined with flowers.
Many mistakenly think that this was some kind of Al-Quada attack like the Bataclan in Paris, but it wasn’t. In the last weeks before the attack he did peruse some Al-Quada sites, but this idea had been percolating in his head for over a year: at the Bastille day fireworks the year before, instead of takings photos of the light show, his photos were all facing backward toward the packed crowds.
Although the perpetrator was a Tunisien immigrant and technically a Muslim, he was not a practicing Muslim and never went to mosque nor did daily prayers; he ate pork, drank, smoke, took drugs, and loved porno. When he was married he beat his wife, and he had a young son. He considered himself a pick-up artist with women, but also had a gay lover on the side. He practiced karate and was an avid salsa dancer. He was out of work, divorced, depressed, and wanted to make his mark. A third of his victims were Muslim, including the first woman that the killer veered out of his way onto the sidewalk to hit, a woman wearing a traditional headscarf who was a mother of 7. This was not about religion, or politics, just immense sadness and maybe a sick sort of revenge on the world.
Every year on the 14th of July, the Ville de Nice holds a series of tributes and memorials, culminating at the seaside at precisely 10:26, when the families gather together to release 85 white helium balloons, at the same moment that 85 searchlights shine up to the heavens. For 2021 the families wanted to add something to bring the community together, especially the youth, so the Ville de Nice held a huge free concert in homage to the victims, starting at 9pm ending at exactly 10:26pm when 86 spotlights shine to the sky.
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Photos by Best of Nice