Commentary: ‘Don’t hang up’: An L.A. teen’s call from Nice brings the terrorism horror home
Oscar Morales was working on a post for OKBaby, a vlog he and Kyra Sivertson began last year after they became parents, when his mother got the call from Nice.
Morales’ sister Aimee, a recent graduate of Crescenta Valley High School, was on a month-long European tour with her best friend. Now her mother, Korina McReynolds, was holding her hand to her heart.
“They’ve been attacked,” McReynolds tells her son, as the camera angle falls, recording only the floor.
“No,” Morales says. “How? No, you’re joking, Mom. How?”
“I don’t know.”
Into the dead silence of the home, Aimee’s tearful voice can be heard over speaker phone:
“It was fourth of July for them,” Aimee says, “and we went to see the fireworks and we were walking back and all I know Ahnyca grabbed my hand and everyone starts yelling and I Iook back and see my tour guide’s face and then I see people getting hit by the bus and I turn around again and there a lot of people on the floor and then they’re all dead.“
At that moment, McReynolds knew nothing of the attack in Nice that left at least 84 dead after the driver of a refrigerated truck plowed through the crowd — it had not yet made the news. But in the video we see her attempt to calm her daughter, telling Aimee to “take a deep breath” and that she will have her on a flight home as soon as possible. Confining her own fear to a few choked sobs and anguished whispers to her son, McReynolds focuses on her daughter, talks her through a city she cannot see, a tragedy she doesn’t yet understand. She asks Aimee if she has a phone charger, if she can see a safe hotel, if her tour guide is alive.
“Don’t hang up, “ McReynolds says, at one point. “I need you.”
The eight-minute video, which begins with happy scenes of Aimee setting off on her adventure, ends with a shot of her safe in a hotel lobby and a call to pray for those who were not as “blessed and lucky” as Aimee, her friend Ahnyca and their families.
Morales put it together with transitional text and, when necessary, subtitles, but the footage is choppy, the camera frequently aimed at the ground, the wall, at table legs as Morales attempts to take in the news and comfort his mother — the camera on but forgotten.
It is a different kind of “live-report” television that’s become increasingly common in these troubled times, and it’s difficult to watch, even knowing that the young women are safe. In the best version of every parent’s nightmare, McReynolds’ desperate calm instantly collapses the enormity of the event into a single series of maternal directives, which days later emanated from my own phone as my own teenage daughter showed me the video.
The world is a vast and confusing place, until moments like these shrink it so it fits into the palm of your hand.
And in this case, it quickly shrunk even further. My daughter Fiona, who had herself been in Nice in June, follows OKBaby because Oscar and Kyra went to her brother Danny’s high school.
All I heard was, ‘everyone is dead.’
— Korina McReynolds
It took me less than an hour to discover that Aimee Morales, who I had just heard sobbing amid unimaginable carnage, and Ahnyca Quesada, who may have saved her life, had in fact been in my son’s class; one hot bright evening not that long ago, I had watched them graduate. One Facebook message later, I had McReynolds’ phone number.
She was driving back to Los Angeles from Montana, where Oscar now lives, in time to meet Aimee who was also on her way home from Florence, via London.
“The attack had just happened,” McReynolds says of the moments captured in the video. “So we had no idea what she was talking about. Just that there had been an attack and people were dead. It wasn’t even on the news, there were only a few tweets.”
“I don’t even remember what I said when she first called,” she says. “In my mind, it went on for hours, but my son says it was just a few seconds. All I heard was, ‘everyone is dead.’”
Some of McReynolds’ friends had expressed concern when Aimee and Ahnyca decided to go to Europe. The girls had originally wanted to backpack, but McReynolds decided an agency tour would be better. “A lot of the kids were older,” she says, “on gap year; [the girls] were the only Americans. But the tour and the guide were amazing.”
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, she says, the group made its way to the beach and followed the shoreline to a hotel where they stayed until the police activity died down. Aimee called her mother every 10 minutes while her father got in touch with the American consulate.
Eventually the group, which was organized through Topdeck tours, made its way back to its hotel. The group was scheduled to leave for Florence in the morning; in Florence, counselors met with the group members, many of whom chose to continue their travels.
Aimee and Ahnyca, however, chose to come home. “I left the decision to her,” McReynolds says, “though I really wanted her back. But she wanted to get home as soon as she could.”
Aimee is calmer now, McReynolds says, but still deeply affected.
“It happened right in front of her; Ahnyca pulled her out of the way,” she says. “She heard the truck hit people. That’s what she keeps saying to me. That she cannot stop hearing the sound of the truck running over all those bodies.”
On Twitter: @marymacTV
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.