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Chicago’s French community mourns after latest terrorist attack

Vincent Floreani, France's consul general for the Midwest, in his Chicago office. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Reeling from the third terrorist attack on their home country in little over 18 months, Chicago’s French community on Friday mourned lives lost when a truck plowed into a crowd that had been celebrating Bastille Day in Nice.

As the French government began its investigation into the horror Thursday, played out on a national day of celebration, the French community that had also been celebrating Bastille Day here declared, like the country’s leaders, that they will not live in fear.

“France was attacked yesterday — 84 people were killed, and more than 50 are in highly critical conditions,” Vincent Floreani, France’s consul general for the Midwest, said Friday at a press conference at his offices on Michigan Avenue.

About 6,000 French nationals live in the Chicago area, among roughly 25,000 throughout the Midwest. Hundreds were celebrating Thursday at an annual Bastille Day picnic at Montrose Beach. Others had flocked to celebrations at local French eateries.

“The French authorities have decided three things. First of all, to extend the state of emergency for three more months, to give more investigation power to police. A draft bill will be presented on Tuesday before the French Parliament,” Floreani said. A state of emergency has been in place in that country since the November terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people at several locations, including a nightclub.

“Then they have decided to maintain the highest threat level, and thirdly, to call in reserve forces,” Floreani said. “We are grateful to the American people for their support. What is at stake here are the values we share: liberty, freedom, human rights, Democracy. These are not only attacks against France. It’s an attack against our common values. Terrorists want us to be afraid. But we are more determined than ever to continue to fight terrorist groups throughout the world.”

He said support has poured into the consulate: a phone call from Mayor Rahm Emanuel; a letter from Gov. Bruce Rauner; messages from Jewish and Muslim groups and from ordinary Americans.

Just last year, in January, an attack on the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killed 12 people.

Georges “Kiki” Cuisance and his wife, Denise Staniec, at their restaurant’s Bastille Day event Thursday. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times
Georges “Kiki” Cuisance and his wife, Denise Staniec, at their restaurant’s Bastille Day event Thursday. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

“It’s terrible that it’s happened again, terrible that we’re getting used to it,” Georges “Kiki” Cuisance, owner of River North’s KiKi’s Bistro, said Thursday night at a Bastille Day celebration there. “It’s absolutely horrific. They chose a day representing joy and freedom, to do it. Our community feels terrible.”

Marie-Claude Schauer and her husband, had been at home preparing to attend the KiKi’s event when they saw the news.

“We said, ‘Oh no. Not one more time,'” said Schauer.

“I then contacted all my friends in Nice, asking, ‘Are you OK?’ My goodness, it just doesn’t stop. They have something against France,” she lamented. “July and August are French vacation months. People get one month paid vacation, and converge on the Riviera. It’s family time. So hundreds would have been on the streets when that truck ran into them. I didn’t know what kind of a celebration we could possibly have, after that news.”

At Montrose Beach, attendees held a moment of silence for the victims; at KiKi’s, too.

“We are thinking of them, praying for those deeply hurt by this tragedy,” said Jean-Jacque Joulie. He and fiancee Jennifer Bahnick had been in Paris during the November attack.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Are you concerned being in France?'” said Bahnick. “I think, unfortunately, we live in a world where things can happen anywhere, anytime. You have to be vigilant. But we can’t give in to fear. We can’t give in to it.”