Family frantic to find UC Berkeley student missing in terrorist attack in Nice, France
As soon as Nicolas Leslie’s parents found out about the attack in Nice on Thursday, they tried to call him. The calls didn’t go through.
Leslie, a 20-year-old UC Berkeley student, was one of dozens of California students celebrating Bastille Day in France when a rented refrigerated truck moving at 25 to 30 mph crashed into a crowd on Promenade des Anglais, near Nice’s Palais de la Mediterranee. At least 84 people were killed and 202 people have been injured, 52 of them critically.
Through a UC Berkeley study abroad program, 85 students from Berkeley and some surrounding schools were in Nice, many celebrating on the Promenade. As of Friday evening, the university had accounted for 84 of those students: everyone except Leslie.
Leslie’s mother, who is Italian, dispatched family and friends in the area to check hospitals and try to find her son in person, said a family friend who was with Leslie’s mother at her Del Mar home on Friday, but asked only to be identified by her first name, Antonella, to protect her privacy and the family’s privacy.
Three other UC Berkeley students were injured in the attacks: Vladyslav Kostiuk, 23, and Daryus Medora, 21, suffered broken legs, according to a UC Berkeley news release. Diane Huang, 20, suffered a broken foot.
Kostiuk and Huang were released from an area hospital and have returned to their dorms in Nice. Medora was still in the hospital as of 5 p.m. PDT on Friday.
UC Berkeley student body president William Morrow doesn’t personally know Leslie or the injured students, but has many friends who are participating in the program, including his chief of staff, he said in a phone interview Friday.
“I found out about the attacks almost instantaneously,” Morrow said. “One of my good friends posted on Facebook saying they were in hiding, and there was shooting.”
Thousands gather on Monday on the Jardin Albert and the Promenade des Anglais in Nice to observe a minute of silence for victims of the deadly attack.(AFP/Getty Images)
The crowd applauds police officers and rescue teams after a minute of silence on the famed Promenade des Anglais in Nice.(Francois Mori / Associated Press)
Ghassan Zaour watches people gathered around a makeshift memorial after observing a minute of silence to honor the victims of deadly attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.(Luca Bruno / Associated Press)
People observe a minute of silence on the famed Promenade des Anglais in Nice, to honor the victims of the attack.(Francois Mori / Associated Press)
People gather in front of a wall of flowers laid on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, where the truck crashed into the crowd during Bastille Day celebrations.(Ian Langsdon / European Pressphoto Agency)
A man scans notices of people missing after a man drove a truck into a packed crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice.(Boris Horvat / AFP/Getty Images)
A woman reacts after learning of the death of a relative at a Nice hospital.(Claude Paris / Associated Press)
A woman walks alone on a deserted beach beside the Promenade des Anglais on July 6, 2016, in Nice, where the truck crashed into the crowd during the Bastille Day celebrations.(Ian Langsdon / EPA)
People hug outside Pasteur Hospital in Nice after the July 14 truck attack that killed 84 people.(Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP/Getty Images)
The Eiffel Tower in Paris is illuminated in the colors of the French flag in solidarity with the victims of the terror attack in Nice.(Christophe Petit Tesson / EPA)
A woman sits under French flags lowered at half-mast in Nice, following the deadly Bastille Day attacks.(GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP/Getty Images)
Police secure the area where a truck drove into a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations, killing scores of people in Nice, France.(Andreas Gebert / EPA)
A forensic expert examines dead bodies covered with a blue sheet on the Promenade des Anglais seafront in Nice, a day after a gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day.(Boris Horvat / AFP/Getty Images)
People react near the scene where a truck drove through revelers in Nice, France.(Francois Mori / Associated Press)
Crime scene investigators work on the Promenade des Anglais after the truck crashed into the crowd during the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France.(Olivier Anrigo / EPA)
People gather in front of the memorial set on the Promenade des Anglais where the truck crashed into the crowd during the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France.(Ian Langsdon / EPA)
A man holding the French national flag stands near the site of the truck attack in the French resort city of Nice, France.(Luca Bruno / Associated Press)
Flowers placed near the site of the deadly attack on the Promenade des Anglais seafront in the French Riviera city of Nice.(Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images)
Floral tributes are placed near the site of the truck attack in the French resort city of Nice.(Luca Bruno / Associated Press)
Riot police officers and gendarmes are seen Friday outside the Pasteur Hospital in Nice, France.(Claude Paris / Associated Press)
Police researchers inspect the cab of the truck that crashed into Bastille Day revelers in Nice, France.(Alberto Estevez / EPA)
Roses are attached to a barrier near the scene of the truck attack in Nice.(Francois Mori / Associated Press)
An image grab from the Twitter account of harp_detectives shows people fleeing the scene of the truck attack Thursday in Nice, France.
An image grab from the Instagram account of GA Morrow shows people fleeing the scene of the truck attack in Nice, France.
The truck that plowed through Bastille Day revelers, its windshield riddled with bullets, is examined by forensics officers in Nice, France.(Claude Paris / Associated Press)
Emergency workers tend to a woman injured in the truck attack.
(Olivier Anrigo / EPA)
French President Francois Hollande addresses the nation after the tragedy in Nice.(Associated Press )
Bodies lie on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice after a truck sped into a crowd during Bastille Day celebrations in the southern French city.(Cyril Dodergny / TNS)
Soldiers, police officers and firefighters walk amid bodies covered with blue sheets along the Nice seafront.(Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images)
A body lies on the ground after the Nice attack.
(Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images)
People gather near the scene of the attack.
(Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers and rescue workers stand near a truck that plowed into a crowd of people leaving a fireworks display in the French Riviera town of Nice on Bastille Day. Dozens of revelers were killed.(Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images)
Ambulances line up near the scene of the attack.(Claude Paris / Associated Press)
A soldier stands guard alongside police officers near the site of the truck attack.
(Ciaran Fahey / Associated Press)
Residents walk with their hands up as police conduct checks.(Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images)
In this video still, a police officer directs people from a cordoned-off area after a truck plowed through a crowd of Bastille Day revelers.(Associated Press)
Police officers inspect a vehicle after the truck attack in Nice.
(Valery Hache / AFP/Getty Images)
Morrow immediately contacted his friends on Facebook and iMessage to make sure they were safe, and spent time Friday talking to administrators about offering extra counseling and other resources to students, he said.
University officials are working with local police, the U.S. consular office and his family to locate Leslie, the university said.
”We have 85 over there. We found 84,” said university spokeswoman Claire Holmes. “We’re devastated … we’re hoping that Nick is coming home.”
Four of the 85 students attending the program through UC Berkeley have decided to return home immediately, said university spokesman Robert Sanders. Three more will leave this weekend. The injured students have decided to stay in Nice, he said. The program, a 15-day Entrepreneurship and Innovation program in Europe that is part of the international European Innovation Academy, is scheduled to run through July 24.
Leslie has visited Nice with family before, speaks Italian and English, and is familiar with the city, Antonella said.
Leslie is an only child who is “adored by everyone who knows him,” said Antonella, who has known the family for 15 years. “He’s a wonderful, caring, young adult, extremely motivated.”
Leslie’s uncle, Fabeo Bottini, and Bottini’s wife, went from hospital to hospital looking for his nephew, the Wall Street Journal reported. He was staying in student housing, but didn’t return to the building after the attack.
“Yesterday he was in the zone of the accident. From yesterday, we don’t know — he is missing,” he told the newspaper.
His uncle said a friend saw Leslie running away from the promenade as the truck was passing.
“Maybe he is alive, but I don’t know, maybe he is confused,” he said.
The truck driver was gunned down by French authorities. He was identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, born in Tunisia on Jan. 3, 1975.
While there are 85 students participating in the program through UC Berkeley, some of them are enrolled at other college campuses, including UC Merced, UC Davis, James Madison University and the local Peralta Community College District, Sanders said.
The program director, Ken Singer, has visited the three injured students in the hospital, Holmes said.
University officials have suspended the program temporarily to observe three days of mourning in France, and will continue it through its planned end date on July 24. The university offered to fly students home if they wanted to leave before it ended.
According to Leslie’s Facebook page, he is from Milan, Italy, and went to Torrey Pines High School in San Diego. Holmes said the missing student is known for being active in the campus community and has an interest in economics. He is a junior majoring in the College of Natural Resources.
The campus is “still reeling from the loss earlier this month” of Berkeley student Tarishi Jain, Morrow said. Jain was one of 20 hostages killed July 1 during a standoff at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Bangladesh. Authorities said armed extremists stormed into the bakery, saying they wanted to kill non-Muslims. In a battle with security forces, six attackers were killed.
“It’s scary how small the world can be sometimes,” Morrow said. “And how easy it can sometimes feel to be disconnected from this violence.”
Friends of Leslie have taken to Facebook to express their grief and encourage others to look for him.
“Please help find my friend!! He was out with us last night before everything happened, and in the midst of all the chaos he was nowhere to be found,” reads one post from someone named Erika Ho, who is part of the Facebook group of participants in the study abroad program. “We are all praying for the best but please help by sharing this post and spreading the hashtags!!”
Vice Provost Cathy Koshland and dean of students Joseph Defraine expressed condolences for the families, students and French community for the “tragic event” and “senseless violence.”
For breaking news in California, follow VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.
6:30 p.m.: This story was reworked and rewritten.
5:41 p.m.: This post was updated with information from William Morrow.
4:59 p.m.: This post was updated with information about the injured students.
4:47 p.m.: This post was updated with online comments from friends of the missing student.
3:32 p.m.: This post was updated with an additional detail about an injured student.
3 p.m.: This post was updated with additional details about the injured students.
2:22 p.m.: This post was updated with additional details about Leslie’s family.
1:41 p.m.: This post was updated with additional details on the international program and the missing student.
1:10 p.m.: This post was updated with additional details on the missing student.
This article was originally published at 12:25 p.m.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.