Sunday 20 August 2017

Police rescue children held by sword-wielding teen in school

Special French intervention police forces (GIGN) and children leaving the Charles Fourier nursery school in Besancon, eastern France
Special French intervention police forces (GIGN) and children leaving the Charles Fourier nursery school in Besancon, eastern France

Angela Charlton in Paris

Half-a-dozen children and their teacher were released safely yesterday after being held hostage for four hours by a teenager armed with two swords at a nursery in the eastern French city of Besancon.

Officials said the man, whom one described as suffering from a personality disorder, had been arrested and was being questioned by police from France's elite GIGN force.

"There was no more violence, it all went calmly," said Besancon mayor Jean-Louis Fouss-eret, who added that the boy had been treated for depression but had not taken his medication in recent days.

Mr Fousseret did not confirm reports that the youth had requested a gun to commit suicide.

The boy initially seized a class of 20 children but released 14 throughout the morning, including one who "more or less escaped", added Mr Fousseret.

Five or six children and the teacher were believed to be still in the pre-school when the officers entered around lunchtime.

The masked gendarmes pointed their guns at the school's windows and doors as they entered. They were in contact by phone with the teenager before the last group of children was released.

Families huddled around the school, with children bundled against the cold.

The youth did not threaten the children and allowed them to go to the toilet throughout the ordeal, Education Minister Luc Chatel said from the scene.

The incident took place at the Charles Fourier pre-school in Planoise, an area of housing projects with a big immigrant population on the western edge of Besancon.

Police detained the hostage-taker after they slipped into the school as the children were being brought lunch, Mr Chatel said.

He was first neutralised with a shot from an electric pistol, said Laurent Gresset, regional chief of the Alliance police union.

"We brought in meals, and it was at that moment that the GIPN was able to intervene, separate the children, free them and apprehend the hostage-taker," Mr Chatel said.

French television showed a wide-eyed girl being draped in a green blanket and carried away from the school. Applause erupted as the last five were led from the school after the police intervention.

Knives

Reports of the arms wielded by the hostage-taker varied, but Mr Chatel said he carried "two long knives".

He said the hostage-taker had wanted to kill himself "in the classroom".

"It was he (the hostage-taker) who contacted police . . . he asked several times for a weapon to kill himself," Mr Chatel said, apparently referring to a gun.

"Beyond that, he expressed no violence toward the children."

Described by officials as depressive, the teen appeared to be gentle with his pre-school hostages. He never threatened the children, even allowing them to go to the bathroom, Mr Chatel said.

Several parents interviewed on French television said their children seemed unaware of the gravity of the drama, and many coloured to pass the time.

"From the start, police understood that he wanted to hurt himself more than the children and the teacher," said Mr Gresset.

Police talked with the young man throughout the ordeal "so he would turn himself in peacefully and not kill himself".

Families huddled around the school, with children bundled against the cold. Emergency workers draped a blanket over one woman's shoulders as she wept.

Irish Independent

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