Bastille terror attack: 'Psychological wounds' persist for victims

By Sudarsan Raghavan

She was buying her 4-year-old daughter sweets when she saw the truck barrelling down the thoroughfare, striking everyone in its path. Hager Benaouissi pushed her child to the asphalt and lay on top of her. The truck miraculously missed them.

Now she is trying to save her daughter Kenza again.

"She becomes really afraid when there is a crowd," said Benaouissi, a 32-year-old kindergarten worker. "In the middle of night, she wakes up and starts crying and screaming, 'They are shooting!'"

On Friday, 84 people died and scores more were injured when a Tunisian-born French resident Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a refrigerator truck down a seaside promenade as tens of thousands gathered for a Bastille Day fireworks celebration. But hundreds, if not thousands, have endured invisible scars that could take a long time to heal, if they ever do, say psychologists and victims.

"They are facing enormous stress," said Noel Daniello, a nurse in charge of a psychological support team at Nice's Pasteur Hospital, where more than 1500 people have arrived since Saturday for counselling. "The bad memories could become a long-term psychological wound."

Unlike last year's terrorist attacks in France - on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in January and on the Bataclan concert hall and other Parisian nightlife venues in November - the rampage here targeted entire families. By long-standing tradition, Bastille Day in Nice is a time to take children for a walk along the beach-side, indulge them with candy and ice cream, and watch fireworks on the French Riviera.

Today, the parents of at least 10 children are mourning their deaths and grappling with the psychological impact. Those of at least 35 injured children have waited in trepidation at hospitals, praying for them to survive. A 6-month-old child is still fighting for life in an emergency ward.

And countless parents - Christian and Muslim, of all political stripes - like Benaouissi are struggling to bring their children back to their normal selves, to be able to enjoy again the mundane pleasures in life. "Some children don't know how to play with toys anymore," Daniello said. He recounted how he gave a 4-year-old girl some dolls and she did not know what to do with them. "It was like she was a year old. She didn't lose anybody in the attack. But what she has lost is her childhood. She saw things she should have never seen."

Across the Promenade, on notes placed amid the piles of candles and flowers to commemorate the victims, people bared their raw emotions. "The empty looks, the smell of blood, makes it difficult for me to erase the memory," one mourner wrote.

- Washington Post

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 26 Sep 2016 15:48:12 Processing Time: 1134ms