Exactly nine years ago on Bastille Day, Anne-Sophie Gueguen realized her dream of opening a French-American school to offer bilingual education to children in New Jersey.

Now, almost a decade later, the once-festive national holiday will be remembered in a much different way.

Gueguen and other educators at the French American Academy watched in horror Thursday as they learned that terrorists driving a truck loaded with weapons and hand grenades plowed through a crowd of Bastille Day revelers in Nice, France, killing at least 80 people.

The French Academy New Milford Campus (Credit: Google Maps)

Gueguen, the founder and head of the New Jersey-based bilingual school, said the community is "still in shock."

"We are all shocked by this one more horrible tragedy, happening purposely on our National Day," Gueguen told NJ 101.5 Thursday evening as the death toll from the tragedy continued to rise.

The French American Academy, which opened July 14, 2007, currently has three campuses in New Jersey: New Milford, Morris Plains and Jersey City. During the summer season, Gueguen said, only the Jersey City campus is open for children ages 3 to 8, who attend summer camp. The other facilities are closed. Summer is often a time when the families of students at the Academy head to France for vacation.

Gueguen said at this point, the school staff still doesn't know the statuses of all of the families who may have traveled to Europe for the summer or if relatives and friends of students are alright.

"I don't know yet if all our families are safe," Gueguen said. "We are shocked."

The attack took place as people in the French resort town were gathering near Nice’s Palais de la Mediterranee, a building facing the beach, to watch fireworks. French authorities say the driver of the weapon-packed van killed at least 80 people — including children — before police killed the driver. Several people remain in critical condition, according to authorities.

French President Francois Hollande said France was under an “Islamist terrorist threat.” He extended the state of emergency that has been in place since the November attacks that killed 130 in Paris. The state of emergency was set to end July 26, but Hollande will seek parliamentary approval to extended it by three months due to the attack in Nice.

“The terrorist character (of the attack) cannot be denied,” he said in a televised statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at toniann.antonelli@townsquaremedia.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.

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