Sunderland student tells of Nice terror attack lucky escape

Melissa Johnson and boyfriend Kieran Richardson.
Melissa Johnson and boyfriend Kieran Richardson.

A Sunderland student has told how she missed the terrorist attack in Nice by just minutes after a deciding to have an early night.

Fashion journalism student Melissa Johnson 24, was among the thousands who turned for the Bastille Day celebrations in the French city.

Melissa Johnson and Kieran Richardson who missed the attack by minutes.

Melissa Johnson and Kieran Richardson who missed the attack by minutes.

But her and boyfriend Kieran Richardson, 29, decided to leave early – which saw them miss the terror attack which cost more than 80 people their lives by less than ten minutes.

The pair arrived in Nice around 10.30am on the day of the attack for a week's holiday. They had been on Promenade des Englais, watching the fireworks which were part of the Bastille Day celebrations.

Just minutes after they left, a lorry ploughed through the crowds on the promenade where they had been standing, killing 84 people – including 10 children – and injuring 202 others.

The driver of the lorry, who has been identified as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was shot dead by police.

Melissa, from Mount Road, High Barnes, Sunderland, said she feels lucky to be alive.

She said: "We missed it by just 10 minutes. If we had stayed there, we would have been involved.

"We were on the end of the promenade from 7pm to around 10pm watching the parade and fireworks. The atmosphere was great.

"There were lots of young families and French teens around and the place was packed.

"But we had had a long day so we decided to go back to the hotel early and beat the crowds."

She added: "We left around 10.22pm and got back to the hotel around 10.40pm. It was only when we switched on the news we realised what had happened. I called my mum straight away."

Melissa and Kieran, a civil servant from Tunstall, said they didn't see or hear the attack but saw people - mainly older women and teenagers- running away from the scene when they looked out of their hotel window.

Melissa added: "We heard ambulance sirens going past and, when we looked out on the balcony, we saw people running down the main street.

"We had our suspicions then that something bad might be happening.

"It was only when we switched on the BBC news that we realised the enormity of what had happened."

The couple only left early because they were tired after an early morning flight.

She said: "If we had been on a later flight, we would have stayed out later and we could have been caught up in it.

"It is frightening to think that it could have been us.

"I ran my parents straight away and said were safe at the hotel. My mum hand't even seen what had happened at that stage. She asked me if I was going to come straight home but we've decided to stay until the end of the holiday on Tuesday."

The pair say they will pay their respects to the victims tomorrow by laying flowers at the scene but are determined they will not be beaten by the attack.

Melissa added: "We went out for lunch today and there were armed police and servicemen on the streets. It is very quiet but people are still going about their business.

"We are not going to let this beat us. Now the dust has settled we are going to stay.

"I think that is important. We can't let it beat us and we can't let it destroy us.

"It is important to keep going as normal but I think it will hit us harder by the time we get home."