Local News

Nice tragedy brings back memories of attack on UNC's 'Pit'

Posted July 15, 2016 4:04 p.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2016 7:16 p.m. EDT

— Julian Wooten said he experienced an uncomfortable sense of deja vu upon hearing of that a truck drove through a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, France, Thursday night, killing at least 84 people and injuring hundreds more.

"When you started hearing details about the car, how it drove through crowds celebrating Bastille Day, you really think about, wow, this is something I’ve gone through, and I know what those people are feeling," Wooten said. "You put yourself back to where you were that day."

Wooten was on "The Pit," a popular gathering spot on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, on March 3, 2006, when a Jeep Grand Cherokee barreled through the crowd there, injuring nine people.

"It stops, then it floors it and runs through The Pit, and all you can hear is screams and people just flying off the car like toys almost," Wooten said.

"It was amazing that no one was killed," said James Moeser, who was chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill at the time. "There was not only the residue of the sadness, but also the grief and the sense of terror that people could’ve died."

Moeser was criticized for refusing to call the incident an act of terrorism, especially after graduate student Mohammed Taheri-Azar told police that he drove the rented Jeep into the crowd to avenge the killings of Muslims by the U.S. across the world and wanted to create as much carnage as possible.

"It was clear there was a terrorist element to it, although he was never connected to any group," Moeser said.

Taheri-Azar pleaded guilty to nine counts of attempted murder in August 2008 and was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

"I think labeling it terror was kind of difficult then, but I think it’s obviously an act of hate and terror now," Wooten said. "I would even propose that was really the start of when the world started to change, when we had that even happen here at The Pit."

Moeser agrees, pointing out that 10 years have passed and not much has changed.

"It brings to mind all the things that are dividing our country right now – the very same issues," he said.