September 30, 2023

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“Going from body to body”: testimony of a survivor of a family devastated by the Nice attack

Christophe Lyon, the sole survivor of the tragedy that killed six members of his family, gave harrowing testimony Tuesday at the trial of the 2016 Nice attack.

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His pre-rugby physique was no match for his emotion-broken voice. On the evening of July 14, 2016, Christophe Leon, 50, lost his wife Véronique, his son-in-law Michel, his parents Germaine and Giselle and his parents François and Christian to Tunisian Mohamed Lahouij-Bouhlel. Voluntarily drove a 19-ton truck into the crowd, killing 86 and injuring over 450.

The former Army Chief Warrant Officer, in a blue polo shirt and close-cropped hair, flashes photos of loved ones in the courtroom. Meticulously, he paints a miniature portrait of each.

The last photo shows them all having lunch on a sunny terrace just hours before the tragedy. All faces smile. “There are often conflicts between families, and with us, that’s not the case,” Christophe says in a whisper.

After a delightful lunch, Nice’s extended family, living in the hinterland, heads into town for fireworks.

The sequence was repeated dozens of times in court. A truck comes speeding out of nowhere, deliberately targeting the crowd.

“We were walking towards the Palais de la Méditerranée when I heard a noise. I turned around, saw the truck and had time to move…”, says Christoph. A pause and he adds in a small voice: “…to see them all” cut off by the white truck. He stands and cries.

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The ex-soldier places his parents, both of whom are still breathing, in a side guard position. “I was going from body to body. I kept telling them I loved them,” she says.

Another silence. After the brutality of the act, we feel the brutality of the human being,” he said dryly. He talks about filming scavengers rather than rescuing the wounded. And “rapists” who prey on victims. “There was something about my mother…the horror of humanity”.

Christoph’s mother dies before help arrives. His father was “overwhelmed with urgency”. In the hospital, “I was like a zombie. I was wandering,” he said.

Then we had to go home. Tell loved ones terrible news.

Three days later, he remembers his in-laws’ dog staying in the car parked in the parking lot. The windows were rolled down and the car was in the basement. The dog that became Christophe’s “symbol” is alive and well.

What follows is nonsense. withdrawal from the world. To get back on his feet, he chose to put his head down and get to work. “12 hours per day including Saturday”.

He invented political recovery and had no soft words for those who attempted it.

Thus he calls Christian Estrozzi (expected at the bar on October 20) who “runs after me to introduce me to President Macron and forgets who I am after two minutes” or ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy who “wants to meet me but cancels the meeting when he says I don’t want journalists”.

She describes her shock when she received her father’s post-mortem report in November 2019. At the beginning of the trial, it was a fresh shock to learn that his father’s organs had been removed.

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“We thought all the bodies were perfect. This is not the case. We fell back into horror,” he said.

Survivor’s guilt grips him. “If anyone has to leave that day, it will definitely be me, because of my military background,” he likes to convince himself.

When he returned to the civil party bench, his twin sisters hugged him. Finally the photo of the family meal fades from the screen.