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TERRORISM

‘Where is my son?’ Tears and trauma at Nice hospital

Tahar Mejri looks exhausted as he stumbles out of the children's hospital in Nice where he went in desperate search of his four-year-old son, Kylan.

'Where is my son?' Tears and trauma at Nice hospital
Tahar Mejri, who lost his wife and son during the deadly Nice attack that left 84 dead on Bastille day. Photo: AFP

“I have called everywhere, police stations, hospitals, Facebook and I can't find my son. I have been looking for him for 48 hours,” he tells AFP.

“My wife is dead, where is my son?”

Mejri is one of hundreds whose life changed in an instant when a truck careered into a crowd of people who had just enjoyed a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice on Thursday.

A few hours later his search came to an end at the Pasteur Hospital in the north of the city where he learned that his son was dead.

Earlier he told AFP he could not understand why the famed Promenade des Anglais was not closed to traffic for the celebration.

It was, but 31-year-old Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel smashed through onto the pavement in the truck, leaving police helpless to stop him from killing 84 and injuring around 200.

“Everyone was there, old people, babies,” Mejri raged.

Abandoned dolls and pushchairs were among the debris left along the promenade after the driver was shot dead by police.

Ten children and teenagers were among the dead and another five children were still fighting for their lives alongside dozens of critically injured adults.

Thirty children were hospitalised at the Lenval Foundation paediatric hospital where a unit of psychologists has been working alongside doctors to deal with the flood of trauma.

“There were a lot of head injuries and fractures,” said hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Simpson.

Two of the children admitted to the hospital died shortly after the attack.

Simpson said the youngest victim being treated was six months old.

Also in the hospital was an eight-year-old boy who had yet to be identified.

Romanian authorities said three of their citizens were missing, and one of them might be the boy at Lenval.

“We are used to receiving a lot of children at the same time, but this, has been hard to manage. It is the psychological aspect,” said Simpson.

She says the hospital received a deluge of calls looking for missing children after the attack.

Trauma counsellors have been made available at several points around the city, and at Lenval, families dropped in sporadically.

One man accompanied his 13-year-old daughter and ex-wife who had been to see the fireworks display and got caught up in the chaos after the attack.

“It's the first time they have left the house since,” he told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

“They saw people running in all directions shouting that there were gunmen in the town. My daughter can't even speak, her mother had to convince her to come.”

Another man comes in with his wife and two daughters.

“We need to see someone. We saw everything on Thursday night, the truck passed 30 metres (100 feet) from us. Another four seconds and we would have been hit. Luckily we moved aside.”

TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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