Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Left Nice 12 Hours Before Truck Mowed Down Crowd


NICE, France (CBSNewYork/AP) — France was ravaged by its third attack in two years when a large white truck mowed through revelers gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice Thursday, killing at least 84 people as it bore down on the crowd for more than a mile along the Riviera city’s famed seaside promenade.

Tributes were pouring in from around the world, and in the New York area for the fallen which included two Americans.

City Hall was lit in France’s national colors and the American flag was at half staff. The Empire State Building remained dark Friday night, while Madison Square Garden was lit in blue, white, and red.

The Eifel Tower in Paris was also lit up in the colors of its nation’s flag.

With condolences for the victims pouring in, France was extending its state of emergency by three more months.

Three days of national mourning were set to begin Saturday.

As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported, a puzzling picture of the killer was emerging on Friday.

The attacker has been identified as 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a French Tunisian living in Nice, CBS News reported.

France’s justice minister, Jean-Jacques Urvoas, said Bouhlel had a record of petty crime but nothing matching the seriousness of Thursday night’s rampage.

He told reporters in Paris that Bouhlel “was at the center of several procedures but was sentenced for only one incident” earlier this year. He said Bouhlel was placed on probation after throwing a wooden pallet at another driver during a confrontation.

“Neither nationally or locally, he had never been the subject of any kind of file or indication of radicalization,” said French Anti-Terror Prosecutor François Molins said.

Urvoas said Bouhlel was handed a suspended sentence since he had never been convicted. He was under the obligation of presenting himself at a Nice police station once a week and posting bail.

Boulel, a father of three, was going through a messy divorce, and recently lost his job.

As investigators towed his deadly weapon, a search going on inside two apartments turned up several phones, IT equipment, and loads of documents.

They have yet to find a record of him with intelligence services, but investigators plan to continue to probe his past.

France has extended

President Barack Obama made remarks on the tragic attack Friday afternoon, saying the the act was a “threat to all of us” and that “we are going to destroy this vile terrorist organization.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas left the city about 12 hours before the truck attack on France’s national holiday, said a spokesman for a San Diego law school.

Thomas Jefferson School of Law spokesman Edgar Hopida said Thomas was teaching a class as part of the school’s summer program in Nice. Hopida says the 68-year-old justice left on a flight Thursday morning.

Hopida said the 50 or so students, faculty and staff in the Nice program are accounted for and safe.

Thomas agreed to participate in the program in place of Justice Antonin Scalia after Scalia’s death in February.

Among those killed were two Americans — 51-year-old Sean Copeland, and his 11-year-old son Brodie from Austin, Texas.

“He was rare and tear and ready to go. He definitely was going to make a big impression on the middle school and the high school,” Coleen Serfoss said.

The attack rocked a nation still dealing with the aftermath of attacks in November in Paris that killed 130 and in January 2015 that killed 17.

Molins said 202 people were wounded in the attack, with 25 on life support and 52 in critical condition.

The mile-long section of the promenade where the attack happened is closed and will likely remain shut down into Saturday.

Speaking after a visit to a hospital in Nice earlier Friday, French President François Hollande said that some people were between life and death.

Hollande, looking somber and flanked by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said that “it’s to hit France that this individual committed this terrorist act.”

Photos: Nice Attack | Investigation | World Reacts

The truck plowed into the crowd over a distance of about 1.2 miles and broadcast footage showed a scene of horror up and down the promenade, with broken bodies splayed out on the asphalt.

“The truck proceeded to run people over and the sounds were really horrific, you could hear banging sounds as the truck drove over people and as soon as the truck went out of view, we could heard a barrage of gunfire and it sounded like a shooting range,” said witness Dominique Molina.

Police killed the driver “apparently after an exchange of gunfire,” Eric Ciotti, the ranking politician of the Alpes-Maritime department that includes Nice, told BFM television.

The truck’s windshield was left riddled with bullet holes. Inside the truck, police found a large cache of firearms and grenades, as well as Bouhlel’s ID card.

Hollande said it was not clear whether the driver had accomplices. No group has claimed responsibility for the carnage, but French officials called it an undeniable act of terror.

The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for “murder and attempted murder in an organized group linked to a terrorist enterprise.”

Nice Regional President Christian Estrosi told BFM TV that “the driver fired on the crowd, according to the police who killed him.”

He said more than 10 children were among the dead, which also included two Americans, Moroccans and Armenians and one person each from Russia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Among those killed were Sean Copeland, 51, and his 11-year-old son, Brodie, of Texas.

Brodie’s fifth grade teacher was emotional as she recalled him as a special boy.

“So it’s heartbreaking that that wonderful, talented child’s not going to be finishing what his dreams were,” said fifth grade teacher Coleen Serfoss.

Estrosi said some of the city’s 1,200 security cameras had pinpointed the moment the attacker boarded the truck, far from the seaside “in the hills of Nice” and could follow his path to the promenade. Estrosi called for the investigation to focus on any accomplices.

“Attacks aren’t prepared alone. Attacks are prepared with accomplices,” Estrosi said. “There is a chain of complicity. I expect it to be unveiled, discovered and kept up to date.”

Neighbors said Bouhlel wasn’t a religious man and had recently been fired from his job, CBS News’ Jonathan Vigliotti reported. The father of three was also reportedly in the middle of a divorce.

Police on Friday detained his estranged wife after raiding her apartment, but neighbors said Bouhlel had not lived there in three years.

The apartment showed visible signs of having been forced in, including a hole where the lock had been.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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