Nice terror attack: ‘I knew my son was gone’

Families remember those killed in the Bastille Day truck assault in the French city

Tahar Mejri (39) walked out of the Pasteur hospital, raised his hands to the sky and screamed at the top of his lungs.

Last Thursday night, Mejri had kissed his wife Olfa (31) and four year-old son Killian as they left for the fireworks. Olfa sent a text saying her phone battery was running out.

“Don’t worry. I just found my girlfriends. The kids are waiting for the fireworks.”

When Tahar heard that a truck had ploughed into dozens of people on the Promenade des Anglais, he ran there and found Olfa, dying on the pavement. Killian was nowhere to be found.

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For 36 hours, Tahar combed hospitals and morgues. Patricia, the daughter of his best friend Hamidi, posted photographs of the smiling four-year-old with black hair, dark eyes and an angelic smile on Facebook.

At noon on Saturday,Tahar knew from the look on the face of the psychologist at Pasteur hospital that Killian had not survived.

Olfa and Killian were Tunisian, like Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the deranged driver who cut them down. Tahar will take them home, to bury them in a Muslim ceremony, side by side.

Yannis Coviaux, also four years old, had gone to the fireworks with his parents, Samira and Mickaël. Mickaël, like the murderer, is a lorry driver.

When the Promenade re-opened on Saturday, Samira and Mickaël sat on a low cement wall near the place where their son had died, clutching his photograph.

Passersby laid flowers and soft toys around the grieving parents.

Yannis was their only son, a playful, mischievous child who loved to throw pebbles from the beach into the sea.

The Coviaux family had gone to see the fireworks with neighbours, one of whom was also killed. The children had just eaten ice cream, and were 20 metres ahead of the parents.

Mickaël told the Nice-Matin newspaper how he watched the lorry hurtling towards them. He pushed his wife aside, felt the air displaced by the lorry as it passed “like a tornado,” missing him by just a few centimetres.

Mickaël ran to Yannis, who was lying on his tummy, with blood on his head. He

Many of Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s victims were, like him, Arab Muslims.

He picked the child up and ran towards the hospital.

“I knew he was gone. His body was inert against mine. He didn’t breathe. I was jumping over bodies, pieces of bodies and dying people.”

Yannis died with a smile on his lips. Mickaël and Samira sat on the ground next to his body, which a fireman had wrapped in a white sheet. Samira was sobbing.

The couple have decided to move back to Grenoble, which they left three years ago for Nice.

According to her son Hamza, Fatima Charrihi (62) was the first person run over by the killer, in front of the Lenval children's hospital on the Promenade.

In photographs published by French media, the plump, smiling Moroccan mother and grandmother wears black eyeliner, a headscarf and a long robe.

“Now Islamic State claims responsibility,” Fatima’s son Hamza told Nice-Matin.

“They’re a little blind. The first person he hit was a veiled, Muslim woman. My sister-in-law and cousin, who were with her, look very north African.”

Fatima Charrihi was born in the village of Taghzoute Aitta, in Morocco. She and her husband Ahmed, a mason, emigrated to Nice four decades ago, after their first child died.

Her children recount that Fatima worked as a cleaning lady, taught herself to read and write, made sure her two sons and five daughters did their homework, cooked soup for the homeless . . .

“It was the classic story of an immigrant family that succeeded,” Hamza said.

“We ended up with a nice house. My father worked hard. My mother was extraordinary . . . pious, practicing, very religious. She always respected the principles of Islam. The true Islam, as preached by the prophet.”

Her son says that Fatima was upset when Islamic State claimed it killed in the name of Islam, but that she was also pessimistic about the rise of Islamophobia in France.

Former soldier

The village of Gattières, on the heights above Nice, is grieving for six of seven members of the Lyon and Locatelli families who had gone down the hill to see the fireworks.

The survivor, Christophe Lyon, is a former soldier, active in the veterans' association, and a lorry driver. He plays on the village rugby team and is in the boules club.

Christophe's wife Véronique, a crèche worker, her son from her previous marriage, Michael Pellegrini, a secondary teacher from Lorraine, Christophe's father, Germain, his mother, Gisèle and his in-laws, François and Christiane Locatelli, all perished.

Gattières will hold a ceremony for them in front of the town hall at 11am this morning.

The 84 deceased include commissioner Emmanuel Grout, the deputy head of the departmental border police, who was off duty when he accompanied his family to the fireworks.

A 60-year-old sports coach, a 42-year-old casino worker and the 12-year-old daughter of a local journalist also died.

The deaths of citizens of Algeria, Armenia, China, Germany, Morocco, Russia, Switzerland, Tunisia, Ukraine and the US have also been confirmed.

Seán Copeland (51) and his 11-year-old son Brodie came from Lakeway, near Austin, Texas.

They had taken a European holiday to celebrate the 40th birthday of Seán’s second wife, Kim. After visiting Spain, they wanted to spend Bastille Day in Nice.

Radical Islam

Brodie Copeland had recently performed in theatre productions of Cinderella and Peter Pan in Austin.

The family’s Congressman, Roger Williams, supports Donald Trump and says the next US president “must protect us and destroy the extremists of radical Islam”.

The Paula-Fürst secondary school in Berlin is mourning a German professor and two students, aged 18 and 19, who were part of a group who were celebrating their recent success in the baccalaureat exam.

French newspapers also published a photograph of Viktoria Savtchenko, a lovely, blue-eyed Russian finance student.

The 20-year-old Savtchenko died on holiday with a girlfriend who survived but was injured.