The painstaking process of identifying the victims of the Bastille Day truck attack in Nice dragged into its third day Sunday, adding to the anguish of family members caught between uncertainty and grief.
Eighty-four people were killed in the Thursday night attack on the Promenades des Anglais, which happened as they were making their way home from a waterfront fireworks display. But just 35 bodies had been identified definitively by Sunday afternoon, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.
The excruciating delay is adding to the suffering of survivors.
One family spent days canvasing hospitals and office for news of a 4-year-old boy whose mother perished, their frustration boiling over into a confrontation with a regional official. University of California, Berkeley students plastered flyers around the city asking for any information on the whereabouts of three classmates at a technology entrepreneur education program. Several imams stepped into the official breach, posting themselves outside the Pasteur Hospital on Sunday to help family members visiting the injured or looking for confirmation of their worst fears from the hospital morgue.
“It puts them in extreme angst, and extreme tension,” said Brigitte Erbibou, a psychologist who has been counselling family members at the centre helping victims and family members.
“It’s unbearable because the more the days go by, the more they suspect the (death) announcement will come. However, until it is announced, the wait is absolutely unbearable because there is no way to come to terms and to begin the work of . the grieving process.”
She counselled two children this weekend whose father was killed but whose mother remained missing. “The children were telling me, ‘For Dad we know, but for Mom, it’s unbearable.’“
Prosecutors in Paris said the identification was being carried out under an accelerated procedure established after last November’s Paris attacks, using DNA or family medical records. They gave no indication of how long the process would take.
“This process is step by step, so that everything will be guaranteed the moment that the identities will be released,” French health minister Marisol Touraine told reporters during a visit to Nice, where she met families at a hospital and a victims’ centre.
Three days after the attack, families of 12 victims were able to see the bodies for the first time. Officials also issued the first death certificates and burial permissions.