The fireworks had just ended when Robert Green, drink in hand on the beach, heard the mumbling, the odd sound of people murmuring about something they couldn’t quite fathom.
Green turned to face the promenade where thousands had gathered to celebrate Bastille Day. That’s when he noticed the white tractor-trailer eerily moving. The headlights were off. The driver didn’t honk the horn.
It was quiet but big, 19 tons lurching forward not on the street, but on a walkway.
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s weird, I wonder what he’s doing driving through the crowd?’” Green said. “Then I saw him swerve right and then left.”
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)
Then the vehicle began to accelerate, and Green felt the wind on his body as the truck, now speeding, flew past.
Then he heard the shrieks and saw the bodies, so many bodies. He ran.
It would soon be clear that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had rented the refrigerated truck Monday and parked it a few miles away. By around 10:30 p.m. Thursday, the truck was parked near the Promenade des Anglais, a showcase of neon-lit beachside resorts and palm trees. It was about 10:45 p.m. when he launched his assault near a children’s hospital.
“I don’t think anyone could believe what they were seeing at the time,” Green said Friday. “There were children of all ages – babies, toddlers, all ages – and they were being picked up by their parents and dragged off the streets.” The 33-year-old bartender had spent the day at a pool party at the Radisson Blu before drinks at the Florida Beach restaurant, just blocks from the promenade. More than 30,000 had gathered for the festivities.
According to French press reports, one of the first victims to die was a Muslim woman. At least 84 were killed. More than 200 were injured.
I saw five or six dead on the left and two on the right, I saw one guy who had been torn in half.
“I saw five or six dead on the left and two on the right, I saw one guy had been torn in half,” Green said. “One woman was hysterical because she saw one of the bodies was someone she knew. Someone else was doing CPR on another of the bodies, but he was missing half his legs.”
Fatima Charrihi, a mother of seven and Nice resident, died as her husband was just 50 feet ahead of her and watched the truck “smashing things to pieces.” Some victims perished under the truck’s wheels, others were sent flying through the air.
Bouhlel accelerated up to an estimated 30 mph. He passed the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen and the High Club, where DJs were scheduled to play until 5 a.m.
“It was like the running of the bulls,” said Michael Bordieri, who had just arrived on vacation from New York with his partner, Andrew Feda. They had watched the fireworks, and as they walked back to their hotel, they saw hordes of people running towards them.
Bordieri checked Twitter. Multiple tweets reported, “shooter in Nice.” Minutes later, Bordieri and Feda heard gunfire. They took refuge for a few minutes in a nearby hotel, then at a restaurant where about 25 other people were hunkering down.
The truck cut a bloody swath through the crowd, with some people desperately leaping aside, even running into the water to escape, but scores of others could not get away.
“Everybody was looking at the fireworks. Then the next thing we knew, there was a noise behind us, and a truck drove straight past us,” said Philip Ezergailis, a 23-year-old bartender from Galway, Ireland. “Then it started speeding up and hitting people, so we realized it was an attack.”
Near the Hotel Negresco, more than halfway through the attack, Bouhlel exchanged gunfire with police, still ramming through the crowds.
Candice Chauvel had just left the fireworks show at Neptune Beach a few seconds earlier, and started to cross the promenade to her home on Rue de France, a block north. Her 4-year-old son, Romeo, was on his kick scooter, weaving through the crowd after his first Bastille Day in Nice. Chauvel and her husband had moved to the city just last month for its reputation: cleaner than Paris, safer too.
“The crowd was calm and then it went crazy,” she said, describing the moment after the truck began to plow through the people behind her. “A man was shouting, ‘Shooting, shooting! Terrorist!’”
“We started running, so many people were confused. Romeo fell to the ground, I picked him up and picked his scooter up and ran home as fast as I could,” Chauvel said.
The truck kept going, flying past the Westminster Hotel and Spa, killing 20 by Le Royal Hotel.
In front of the Casino du Palais, police finally shot Bouhlel dead, leaving the truck riddled with at least a dozen bullets. He had traveled more than a mile.
Chauvel got to her second-floor apartment minutes later, where she found her frantic husband, Antoine Chauvel, opening the door to go look for his wife and child after hearing the screams from his balcony.
“I could see people running from the beach to my road. I’m shouting outside, ‘What is going on! What is going on!’ Nobody is giving me an answer,” said Antoine Chauvel, who had stayed at home to take care of the couple’s toddler.
Candice, in shock, tried to soothe Romeo’s tears and get him to bed. Eventually, he slept.
“Then I just broke down crying,” she said.
Her husband, a freelance photographer, rushed to document the carnage, where he saw injured victims soaked in blood as they were walked away from the scene and white sheets, stained with blood, flung over bodies.
The butcher shop on Rue de France, a block from the attack scene, had opened. The coffee and tea shop was still serving patrons.
The glittering beaches by the site of the attack were closed and deserted but, along Nice’s three-mile beachfront, sunbathers were still out on the southwestern and eastern sands.
In a country that’s endured other deadly attacks, residents were mourning while trying to move forward. So were tourists, who provide a bulk of the city’s business.
In a small nod to a vanished normality, South African tourist Francois Nel returned to the cafe overlooking the promenade that he, with other patrons, had fled pell-mell as the attack unfolded.
He wanted, Nel said, to settle his bill.
Special correspondent Harvey reported from Nice, France. Kaleem reported from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Matt Hamilton, Alexandra Zavis and Ann M. Simmons in Los Angeles contributed to this report.