Mother of girl killed in Nice terror attack tells Northern Ireland forum of her trauma
A French woman whose 12-year-old daughter had her phone stolen as she lay dying after an Isis terror attack in Nice has broken her silence at a victims conference in Belfast.
Amie Vimal (12) was among 86 people, including 14 children, killed when a cargo truck ploughed into a crowd of over 30,000 people gathered on Nice's famous Promenade des Anglais to watch Bastille Day fireworks on July 14, 2016.
Yesterday Amie's mother Anne Gourves joined a panel of other victims of terrorism who are united in their fight for justice, including a Spanish woman whose policeman father was shot dead by Basque separatist group ETA shortly before her first birthday.
"In Nice we are ashamed of what happened so we try to deny it," Mrs Gourves told those who attended the Raymond McCord Jnr Forum. "No one is ready to become a victim of terrorism - we prefer not to consider that it could be us."
Mrs Gourves said the shameful actions of looters and the pressure on residents to ensure the city remains a cheery tourist destination has made victims feel they can't speak about that what happened on that dreadful night.
"I don't understand how some people can have a mental structure that enables them to steal from corpses and dying people," she said. "My daughter's phone was taken as she lay on the street - the last pictures she ever took were stolen."
The primary school teacher described feeling like a ghost with a "contagious disease" in the days after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel used a rented 19-tonne lorry as a deadly weapon.
The Tunisian was shot dead by police after leaving a 1.5-mile trail of destruction in just four minutes and 17 seconds.
Mrs Gourves expressed "eternal gratitude" to the many people who instead of fleeing for their lives chose to stay behind and hold the hands of the dying. But she said she will never understand why some remained in the chaos to "add horror to horror".
"Others stayed only to film with their smartphones," she said.
Ms Gourves is now trying to secure better resources to deal with the thousands who require treatment for trauma after witnessing the "war scene" which included victims as young as two years old from 19 different countries. Almost a third of the dead were Muslim.
"Those people who have become radicalised strike blindly at innocents whatever their age, nationality or religion," she said. "They have lost their ability to reason and love death as much as we love life."
Amie died in hospital just one hour after the attack. Her best friend Cherine Hachadi survived, but woke from a two-day coma to learn that her twin brother and aunt had been killed instantly.
Ms Gourves is also fighting for medical and judicial reform to ensure that French authorities respect the dead after forensic experts harvested Amie's heart and brain for "no scientific reason". French law does not require an explanation why. "I want them back so Amie can rest in peace, I need that," she said.
But most of all the grieving mother is fighting for an end to violence and a better world for her surviving daughter. "I have a dream that one day the human race ceases to kill one another," she said.
Raymond McCord Snr, who is still seeking justice 21 years after his son was killed by UVF members who colluded with their Special Branch handlers, called on Northern Ireland's Victims Commissioner to resign and the Victims and Survivor Service to be replaced after they did not attend.
He also slammed the DUP and Sinn Fein for ignoring an invite to "listen to victims" and demanded that both parties stop "using us as a political football".