Attack in Nice: UConn professor home safe after surviving 'unexplainable' terror

UConn professor Odette Casamayor-Cisneros with her son Flavio Clermont, a freshman at Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut. Casamayor and her son were caught in the attack in Nice on Thursday, July 14, 2016, but escaped and are back safe in the U.S. (Courtesy/Odette Casamayor-Cisneros)

Dr. Odette Casamayor-Cisneros, a University of Connecticut professor of Latin America and Caribbean cultures, was in Nice, France during a deadly massacre that occurred Thursday night during what was supposed to be a fireworks displaying celebrating Bastille Day. She posted on social media to let loved ones know she was safe, and heartbroken.

“Was at #NiceAttack with my son. We've run. We've been just lucky. Safe now but we cannot erase the panic or stop thinking of the victims,” Casamayor tweeted shortly after the attack.

Over 80 people have lost their lives and over 50 are still fighting in the hospital after a Tunisian delivery man, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel age 31, drove a large white truck through a crowd watching the Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, France on Thursday night, according to the Associated Press and other international news outlets.

Earlier today, the Islamic State claimed that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was working with ISIS, making the tragedy an act of terrorism, according to The New York Times.

UConn spokesperson Tom Breen said as far as the university is aware, no other UConn students or faculty were involved in the attacks.

“We are tremendously relieved that Dr. Casamayor-Cisneros is safe and well,” Breen said. “This terrible event brings home the reality that our world is more closely connected than ever, and attacks on innocent people anywhere are felt around the globe.”

When the Daily Campus spoke with Casamayor, she referred to a recount of her experience that she wrote and submitted to the Hartford Courant and now The Daily Campus, stating, “this is basically what I have to say.”

In her piece, Casamayor started by noting that the fireworks were “magnificent as always,” and she and her son Flavio Clermont, a freshman at Hall High School, had begun to make their way back to the hotel once they concluded. It was then that they saw French officers running against the crowd, followed by herds of other people in a state of panic.

“We instinctively started to run too, accelerating as people around us were shouting, in English and French: ‘Run! Go! Attentat!’” Casamayor wrote. “We couldn’t think, just run, desperately, until we reached our street, and then our hotel.”

Casamayor recalled that she and her son had no idea what had happened, they just knew from the panic and sense of urgency from others around them that they had to run to safety, away from something. On the way back to the hotel, she worried that perhaps someone would emerge from a door or street and open fire.

“I had no idea of anything, just the sense of danger and the savage need to run,” Casamayor wrote.

Once safely back in their hotel room, Casamayor and Flavio could not find anything on the TV related to the incident. They thought maybe nothing happened at all. But a while later, the story finally came out.

UConn Professor Odette Casamayor-Cisneros with her son, Flavio Clermont. (Courtesy/Odette Casamayor-Cisneros)

“The whole inhuman story of the white truck massacring people like us, gathered to enjoy the fireworks, unfolded,” Casamayor wrote.

“I can't believe it. I watch the news but I can't believe it. I look at the bodies running and I recognize my very own panic but, still, I can't believe it. I want to sleep and wake up thinking that it was only a nightmare. But I can't sleep and probably for the first time in my life, I cannot even think. Nothing. Nada. Rien. I don't know nothing. Is there anything to know, anyway?” Casamayor wrote in a post on Facebook.

“We cannot stop thinking of the dead and the injured. We were just lucky, and fast. From now on, terror lives in our flesh.
— Odette Casamayor-Cisneros

After packing up their essential items and putting their shoes close to their bedside, Casamayor and Flavio spent a long, unrestful night at the hotel. When they rose in the morning, “the sky was brighter than ever,” but the city was “half silent, slowed down, empty of itself.”

On Friday, Casamayor told the Daily Campus that she was trying to leave Nice as soon as possible.

“We cannot stop thinking of the dead and the injured. We were just lucky, and fast,” Casamayor wrote for the Courant. “From now on, terror lives in our flesh.”


Molly Stadnicki is the associate news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at molly.stadnicki@uconn.edu.