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France Remembers the Nice Attack: ‘We Will Never Find the Words’

NICE, France — The victims were striking in their diversity: young and old; men, women, and children.

There were 37 foreigners from 19 countries; about a third of those killed were Muslim.

On Friday, thousands gathered in the Mediterranean city of Nice, France, to commemorate the 86 victims killed one year ago when a terrorist drove through Bastille Day crowds on the city’s famous seaside promenade.

Around 10:30 on the evening of July 14, 2016, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, intentionally swerved a 19-ton rental truck onto the sidewalk of the Promenade des Anglais and careened into crowds as they were leaving the annual fireworks.

During a three-hour ceremony on Friday evening, President Emmanuel Macron of France spoke, as did the city’s mayor, Christian Estrosi. The names of those who died during the rampage were read out loud and posted on a board to form a heart.

“A truck hurtled into the crowd and tore France apart,” said Pauline Murris, whose cousin died in the attack, and who spoke on behalf of the victims’ families. “The wave of death was terrible, enough to silence its own echo. We will never find the words.”

Dozens of dignitaries were present, including the two most recent former presidents, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

The public pomp, which included honors for police officers and emergency medical workers as well as civilians who tried to stop the truck, will set an official seal on the city’s mourning.

The attack in Nice took place over a mile-long stretch of the Promenade, and it directly or indirectly affected the 30,000 people who had gathered there to celebrate Bastille Day and watch the fireworks.

Some commentators and local figures have lamented that Nice’s tragedy was given less national attention than the attacks in and around Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, that killed 130 people and the attacks at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and other locations that killed 17 in January of that year.

Although tourism has rebounded and people often repeat the mantra “life must go on” as joggers run along the waterfront, it has been hard to get over the attack’s raw brutality.

For families who lost sons or daughters, wives or grandparents, brothers or sisters and for many Nice natives — even those who were not touched directly — the scars go deep, as they do for the 450 people who were wounded in the attack.

Some of those who were injured attended the ceremony, where they leaned on canes, were pushed in wheelchairs or walked on their own but were still coping with the aftereffects of internal injuries.

For some, it is too painful to go back.

“I left the city, and I’m living in the Canary Islands now,” said Emilie Bromley, who was on the Promenade when the attack occurred.

“Honestly, I feel weird about it,” Ms. Bromley said. “In the Canary Islands it is a regular day, but for me it is not. My body is still on alert each time that I’m hearing the noise of fireworks. I will prefer to not celebrate this year.”

For Samih Abid, a Nice native and a lawyer, who was not far from the Promenade on the night of the attack, there is a sense that little has changed and an opportunity has been missed for bringing together the city’s often deeply divided Muslim and non-Muslim populations.

“The violence was blind and stupid, but one-third of the victims were Muslims or from Muslim culture,” he said. “So one is both a victim and one is still stigmatized because it was a Tunisian of Muslim origins who did this.” He added that he had taken his family outside the city on the day of the commemoration.

Many Nice residents and victims’ associations contend that the national and local authorities failed to provide adequate security for last year’s July 14 celebration and that they missed glaring signs — caught on Nice’s extensive video surveillance network — that Mr. Lahouaiej Bouhlel had on several occasions been scouting out the Promenade with his truck.

Others have asserted that the security for the European championship soccer tournament held in Nice a few weeks earlier had better security than the July 14 celebration. An investigation into potential lapses was opened in April after several families filed a lawsuit, but no parliamentary investigative committee has been created to look into the attack, in contrast to the response to the November 2015 Paris attacks.

President Macron acknowledged the anger during the ceremony.

“This rage, I know, many of you still carry it in the pit of your stomach,” he said. “Everything will be done in order for the republic, the state and public authorities to regain your trust.”

Yet the attack on Nice, at least as much as the rampages in Paris, was an indiscriminate attack on all of French society and on an event that symbolized France — its free summer fireworks for Bastille Day.

The Promenade des Anglais always drew the whole city to the event — all religions, all ages and all visitors to make the moment one of shared urban celebration.

There will be no fireworks this year.

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