PARIS—Before the killings began, Nice’s largest church was quiet and nearly deserted.

Vincent Loqués opened the Basilica of Notre-Dame at 8:30 a.m. as usual. The landmark cathedral, a striking bone-white structure, was built in the mid-1860s in the Neo-Gothic style and sits on Nice’s Avenue Jean Médecin—a busy artery in the city center lined with cafes and shops. The 55-year-old Loqués worked there as a sexton for the past 10 years, and his duties included welcoming visitors and worshipers when the church opened.

One such worshipper was 44-year-old Simone Barreto Silva. The Brazilian-born mother of three had lived in Nice for decades and had come to the basilica for a morning prayer session.

Minutes later, a knife-wielding young man entered the church and began attacking those inside, stabbing both Loqués and Silva. Loqués died at the scene, but Silva was able to stagger to a nearby cafe before collapsing and dying from her injuries.

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