When a white truck barrelled into a crowd of spectators in Nice Thursday night, many of those maimed and killed were perhaps the most defenseless victims. More than 50 children were injured by the suspected terrorist attack, and French officials said that more than 10 of the 84 dead were children too.
But before the attack, there was music and laughter on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, as thousands of people flocked to the city’s seaside sidewalks in celebration of Bastille Day. Fireworks burst in the air overhead to mark the national holiday, commemorating a pivotal moment in the French Revolution and drawing hundreds of families with children to watch the display. People stopped along the lighted streets to take selfies and crane their necks for a better view.
Damien Allemand, a reporter for local paper Nice Matin, recalled the lively atmosphere on the promenade before the attack occurred: the kids “throwing pebbles into the water” and the crowd pressed in close together to watch the fireworks bursting in the sky that night.
When he first heard commotion, his first thought were that a child had started some fireworks of their own.
Then he saw the truck drive into the crowd.
“I saw bodies flying like bowling pins in its path,” he wrote later on Medium. “I was paralyzed. I did not move… Then I realized. And I ran with them.”
Among the shouts he heard from people fleeing around him: "Where is my son? Where is my son?”
A video from Reuters showed wide-eyed parents hurrying away from the attack scene, pushing strollers and cradling their children in their arms.
The driver, a 31-year-old French-Tunisian, drove along the promenade for more than a mile, leaving dozens of bodies in his wake, the New York Times reported. The driver also fired shots before he was killed by police and had plastic rifles and an “inactive” grenade inside the vehicle, according to Le Monde.
The attack wounded 202 people, with at least 50 “between life and death,” French President Francois Hollande said Friday. Regional President Christian Estrosi estimated that children made up 10 of the 84 dead, according to Fox, and Nice Matin reported that a children’s hospital in Nice had treated at least 54 children and adolescents among the scores of victims injured in the attack.
So many of the victims were “children, young children, children who came to see the fireworks with their families... to share the amazement and the joy,” Hollande said, according to the Washington Post.
Evidence of the carnage remained along Nice’s streets even after the scene had been evacuated. A Facebook post showed toys scattered across the abandoned sidewalks after the attack: a baby’s doll dressed in pink, the red handlebars of a child’s bike, a wide-brimmed pink hat.
“Families, decimated in a moment,” Tarubi Wahid Mosta wrote.