Thursday, September 6, 2012
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She stayed so still, police thought she was dead.
For eight hours, a 4-year-old girl lay under the body of a female believed to be her mother, beside another unidentified female with a Swedish passport, in the back-seat of a BMW in a car park near the town of Chevaline in the French Alps.
In the front seat of the vehicle, a man believed to be her father was slumped over, shot dead. A few feet away from the vehicle, an 8 year old thought to be her sister was shot in the head three times and badly beaten, but still alive.
"We usually see this kind of scene in a movie rather than real life," Annecy prosecutor Eric Maillaudsaid, adding that the reason for the "dramatic nature" of the killings was unknown, but that the killer did not shoot haphazardly, but "targeted his victims."
The Annecy Tribunal identified the owner and apparent driver of the car as Iraqi-born Saad al Hilli, reportedly a resident of the London-suburb of Surrey and the secretary of a Wiltshire-based aerial photography company, AMS 1087. The Surrey police are working with French authorities to assist the investigation of the incident that left four people dead and one in critical condition.
The 4-year-old suffered no physical injuries. Police have no motive, suspects or weapon, although they believe the shooter used an automatic pistol, which are banned in France.
"We are talking about an extreme savagery act," Maillaud said, speaking at a news conference in Annecy this afternoon.
French police have been unable to confirm the identities of the victims in the car, but the passport details of the car owner matched those of a man registered as missing at a nearby holiday campsite. The BMW passengers are believed to be a family that was coming to the end of their holiday, having arrived in France at the end of August.
"This is not your typical incident," a spokesman for the British Foreign Office told ABC News. "With multiple killings, gathering evidence is much more difficult."
He did not comment on the victims' identity.
Another victim, a cyclist identified by French media as Sylvain Mollier, a father-of-three from Ugine en Savoie, also suffered gunshot wounds and was found dead close to the car.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague tweeted, "Terrible, tragic shooting in France. British Embassy team on the scene. Our thoughts are with the young girls who survived and the family."
The British deputy ambassador went to the scene of the killings, having first visited the injured girl in the hospital. The ambassador was also on his way from Paris.
The main witness was a British cyclist and ex-RAF officer who discovered the scene near Lake Annecy Wednesday evening. He had been passed by another cyclist on the climb that leads to the parking lot where the shooting took place.
Police said that he found the BMW with the engine still running, and saw the older girl walking near the car, about to faint. He then discovered the other cyclist, who had passed him earlier, dead on the road.
After alerting firefighters at about 5 p.m., the witness broke the driver's window and saw the bodies inside, one of which covered the little girl. Authorities removed her at around midnight, and she is being treated by psychiatrists.
The older child is in critical condition in the hospital in Grenoble with a fractured skull. Maillaud told The Associated Press that the girl would be operated on today and her life is out of danger.
Chevaline Mayor Didier Berthollet told the BBC News that most local people had already been questioned by police, describing the situation as "surreal."
"Things are very precious," Barthollet said, adding that the deaths reminded him of a similar death of another family seven years ago not too far away.