How does one even describe the events of Bastille Day 2016? I can talk about my feelings, the attack, the aftermath but it all just seems so unreal. How could I have been put in this situation? Me, who avoided large crowds all my life and stayed inside during the Euro Games for fear of riots and terrorism. As of right now it is impossible to wrap my head around the situation.
Alyssa and I left our host parents’ house at about 8 pm on Bastille Day. We had just taken an hour putting on makeup and cute dresses and buying ourselves little bottles of wine to drink on the beach with our friends. We met Gideon and Nick in front of the statue at Place Massena and went to sit on the Plage Beau Rivage. Eventually, Shayna, Andrea and Lydia showed up and we continued to wait for the fireworks to start. Just before they started, Alyssa decided to go get ice cream and I needed to go to the bathroom so we walked along the Promenade des Anglais to the local McDonalds where there was a long line to go to the bathroom. When we were finally done, we walked back along the Promenade des Anglais to get our ice cream just in front of the Plage Beau Rivage. By the time we returned to our friends, the beach was packed like sardines and the fireworks had just started.
Sitting on the beach before the Fireworks
After the fireworks, my friends and I decided to wait for the crowd to disperse before we went back up to the Promenade des Anglais to walk home or go out for drinks. After most of the beach had cleared, we saw a bunch of people sprint out of the tent of the local restaurant. We just thought there was another exciting show about to start a little farther down. Little did we know, a truck had just accelerated through a crowd of people on the Promenade des Anglais and was heading in our direction.
After a few seconds, a police officer stuck his head over the edge of the Promenade with a look of panic on his face that will forever be engrained in my brain and yelled “Partir! Partir!” (Leave! Leave!) We caught eye contact and you could tell something was terribly wrong and our lives were in danger. Alyssa, Andrea and myself grabbed hands and sprinted up the stairs. We ran to Old Nice where there are a lot of small streets and passed so many diners with customers still enjoying a relaxing dinner—oblivious to the events occurring.
Along the way there was a slow in the crowd so I turned to a twenty-something guy walking next to me and asked “Quelle est la problem?” (What is the problem?). He answered in French and I was in a state of panic so I said “Parlez-vous anglaise?” (Do you speak English?). Fortunately he did and proceeded to explain that there was a terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais, possibly gun shots and possible explosions. I thanked him, grabbed my friends’ hands and ran. The only thing going through my mind was that Andrea didn’t know where I lived and what could happen if we got separated or a gunman opened fire on the road we where on. I just kept yelling directions to my friends telling them, “Don’t stop! Run! Turn right! If we need to duck and cover go to the right! Etc.”
After a few seconds, I texted Mike and told him “I love you. I think there’s an attack here.” He tried calling but I just needed to focus on running to safety. Gideon had left just moments prior along the beach and ran back to find us when he saw the rush of people. He texted me “WTF is happening?” and I did what I could to explain.
Ice cream before Fireworks
While running through the streets, we argued whether or not to go into a restaurant to hide or keep running all the way home. Our destination was about 20 minutes from the beach. At one point, Andrea stopped to throw up and I said “No! Hold it in. We have to keep running.” At another stop, Alyssa was ready to stop and walk because she was so out of breath but we just grabbed her and kept running. We were literally running for our lives.
After a while we ended up on a street that was fairly empty. I found a young couple standing on the corner and asked them “Quelle est la problem?” Once again I didn’t understand so I asked, “Parlez-vous anglaise?” I was surprised at how supportive they were with their response. The girl hung up her phone and said, “Yes, yes English. There was a terrorist attack. Stay in hiding and don’t talk to anyone.” At that point, Alyssa realized that we were right next to the café attached to our apartment so we sprinted through Place Garibaldi and ran up the stairs.
Once we were home safe, we called our parents and families to tell them we were safe. We stayed up until about 2:35 reading and watching the news and talking to our families. We also reached out to all of our classmates to make sure they were safe. Andrea, Alyssa and I snuggled into a double bed just wanting to stay together. That night I stayed in bed for about 4 hours and slept for maybe a total of 1. I couldn’t stop shaking and every car that drove by made my heart stop.
Distance from the Attack to my spot on the beach
The next morning, our host mom told us that we should go to school to take our minds off of everything. I tried getting ahold of my professor to find out what was happening because we were the oldest in the group and our classmates were looking to us for direction. I had to tell my professor that she needed to send us an email advising us to go to class.
On the way to class, Andrea, Alyssa and I met up with Shayna and we walked the 20 minutes through the back roads to get to school. I carried my rosary in my fist the whole way. When I got to my class (an hour late), my friend Yuta gave me a supportive smile and asked me if I was ok. The school went around and made sure every student was accounted for. At the end of class, my professor talked a little about the attack, trying to reassure us that we were safe. I broke down remembering running for my life.
After class, my GVSU group met up and embraced each other—crying and recounting the events of the night. Mason, Jen and Jessica had literally just left the Promenade to head home before the rush. Lydia’s host mom felt that something was off and brought her home right away. Lydia, Nick and Shayna ran in the opposite stairwell from us and then to Old Nice to get Shayna safely home because Lydia and Nick live close to each other. Sam had been standing right on the Promenade where the attack was just moments prior but had decided to go buy a bottle of wine while she waited for her friends. She received a frantic call from Rue screaming that they lost Hannah and something was happening. Rue, Hannah and Torrey had been sitting at Place Massena and ended up separated when they saw people running. Hannah ran into a bathroom with 2 random females and ended up going to the hotel of one of them until Torrey’s host dad could find her to pick her up. Rue and Torrey ran into a parking garage, but a police officer stopped them and said it wasn’t safe so they ran to a road where a woman welcomed them into her apartment. Alyssa, Danielle and Bailey were also separated and ran into cafés opposite each other but eventually were able to get together. They were unable to leave because it was unsafe outside. There were so many instances where one of us should have been in the path of that truck, but all of us had angels guiding us away from the attack.
Held this all night
I cannot even begin to explain the emotions that have gone through me. After nearly 20 hours, I have finally stopped shaking, but I am refusing to allow my brain to comprehend the situation. I am numb and angry and scared and calm and supportive. I don’t know if I should go home early or stay on my trip for another 2 weeks. I feel more for the children and families affected by the attacks and for my classmates who can’t stop crying due to the trauma.
I can say that I have such a sense of pride for the human race. Everyone was working together and cooperating with each other. The police office who risked his life to evacuate the beach. The 3 French people that had enough patience to explain what was happening in English. My host brother, a med student, and his friends who rushed to the hospital to see how they could help. The women who took in my classmates and let them stay with them until everything calmed down. Torrey’s host dad who risked his life driving around Nice trying to pick up stranded GVSU students. My friends and I whose thoughts did not turn immediately to ISIS but to a seizure or a drunk driver. While there is still so much hatred and violence in the world, I truly have faith that we can overcome and overpower it to make this world a better, more loving and universal place. Thanks be to God for sending out our guardian angels last night and allowing us to survive the attack. We are safe.