The French city of Nice was torn apart by the terrorist truck attack that killed 86 and left 458 injured during national holiday festivities. Victims struggle to return to normalcy.
NICE — "We were hit by a truck." This is how 5-year-old Teylan introduces himself as he opens the door of the family's Nice apartment. Last July 14, the family was in the path of the 19-ton truck driven by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel in a gruesome terrorist attack along the seaside Promenade des Anglais as Nice celebrated France's national holiday.
Each member of the Rambeloson family of five survived, but the father and two of the children were seriously injured. Adding to the drama was that Tyrian, then just eight months old, had disappeared during the chaotic aftermath of the truck attack that killed 86 and left injured 458 people. As his panicked parents were imagining the worst, the infant was rescued by a passerby.
One year later, the attack is as present as ever among this family that traces its origins to Madagascar. Physical wounds were taken care of, but the trauma is far from being healed. Tantely Rambeloson, the 37-year-old father, suffered a head injury, and is now subject to severe headaches. The injured leg of Landy, the 6-year-old daughter, has to be monitored, as well as the jaw of her Telyan, which was fractured in two places.
But by now, it's mostly the memories of these hours of horror that suddenly come back. Hidden in the dark corners of the mind, these suppressed images come back to haunt the children, day and night. "They scream in their sleep and are very agitated during the day," the mother, Lalatiana Rambeloson says.
She says her own brain "hit pause" during the attack. "I still don't remember everything," the mother says.
This natural human shield has helped to protect the young woman, who is now able to insist that everything is fine and keep smiling in the face of visitors. But the reality is that, like her husband, fear now largely dictates Lalatiana Rambeloson's life. Noise and crowds terrify her, and everyday activities are as scary as crossing a minefield.
I want to leave Nice
The father now finds that he prefers to wait until the last minute to drop his children off at school, sure to not be there when other parents and kids are congregating on the sidewalk. In the apartment, kept dark behind closed curtains, Tantely Rambeloson says the toll is adding up: "I'm tired." The man we met last September to recount the story of his rescued infant is now lacking energy and unable to work. "I want to leave Nice," he declares.
For the victims who had gathered for the July 14 fireworks along the Nice's emblematic Promenade, the city itself is a source of pain. Vincent Delhomel-Desmarest, who rescued people during the attack and has helped lead the fight for victims' rights afterward, has been hospitalized for weeks. "Every attack abroad brings back the memories," he says in a hushed voice.
To avoid a breakdown, some use action as their therapy. Like Ali Charrihi, whose mother Fatima was the first victim. On that night, he was with his family on the "Prom," and his mind is filled with horrible images. His daughter being pushed away just in time by her cousin to escape the deadly wheels, one of his sons petrified by the horror, and his father fainting as he saw his wife's motionless body.
Ali, who wants to go back to his job as a security agent, is fighting for his children's future, and a path to survival for himself and others. Through the association "Mère patrie" (motherland), he is trying to fight against everything that creates a base for radical Islam in his working-class Ariane neighborhood in the northern outskirts of Nice. The fight against the youth's inertia, radicalization on internet, religious pretexts to mislead young believers has become his mission. The soccer coaching he's always done for a youth team in Ariane Wednesday evenings is no longer just a hobby — it has become his moral duty.