On Bastille Day last year, a terrorist in a truck mowed down hundreds of people, killing 86 and injuring a further 435, on the promenade in Nice.
Bastille Day attack
During last year’s Bastille Day celebration on the Promenade des Anglais along the Mediterranean Sea, a Tunisian-born French resident, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, mowed down hundreds of people with a 19-ton truck shortly after the fireworks ended. Besides those killed, 435 others were injured.
Today, the promenade shows no obvious scars. Older tourists in elegant straw hats sit on the iconic blue metal chairs that face the azure sea — the ultimate symbol of relaxation in Nice — as families and gaggles of teenagers linger while eating ice cream on their way from the beach.
The open-air cafes buzz with chatter and music. Still, things are different.
To commemorate the first anniversary of the attack, traditional Bastille Day festivities in Nice and neighboring towns have been suspended or postponed this year.
Instead, a memorial ceremony will be held Friday afternoon in the majestic Place Massena, the main square lined with Italian-style neoclassical buildings, followed by a concert with the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra.
The seafront at the Quai des Etats-Unis will not be as lively — it will become a scene of remembrance all day Friday. And French President Emmanuel Macron and his two predecessors, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, will attend the somber ceremony. Afterward they will meet with the victims’ families in private.
Last year, Greg Krentzman and his family were visiting Nice from Culver City, Calif., and were at the Bastille Day celebrations. A year later, Krentzman, his wife and 10-year old daughter, Lola, are again here but aren’t sure they want to attend the ceremonies.
“My wife is a little bit nervous,” Krentzman said about his French wife, Sophie. “There’s a big crowd and she’s hoping there will be security in place.”
While Sophie and Lola were able to avoid the truck, Krentzman’s right leg was crushed by the impact, requiring a lengthy hospital stay in Nice. The attack left him with hefty medical bills and unable to work for several months.
“My daughter is young and doesn’t remember the incident so well, but my wife and I remember it pretty well. It has also hit my wife closely because she’s from Nice,” he said.
“It’s been a struggle. Some days are better than others,” he added. “We are certainly better now because time does heal, but it’s still on our minds a lot. These things take a while to move from.”
1/3 of the victims were Muslims
One-third of those killed by Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s driving rage were Muslims.
Nice and the surrounding Alpes-Maritimes region are home to around 120,000 people who trace their origins to France’s former colonies of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
Fatima Charrihi, 62, a grandmother of Moroccan origin, was Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s first victim.
“The people who do these things don’t have any humanity. They don’t want us to live together,” said her daughter, Hanane Charrihi, 28.
Her pain was compounded by the hostile reaction she and her family faced in the immediate aftermath of the attack: Some residents heckled them on the streets as a “band of terrorists.”
“But the degree of support I have received has largely canceled out the three or four negative comments I had,” she added.
Meanwhile, city leaders say Nice has shown its true face since the attack.
“The city has been resilient. It has rebuilt itself calmly and prudently, showing respect for everyone,” said Deputy Mayor Philippe Pradal. “The values of the republic are stronger than those who want to divide us.”