Alps murder witness: 'It was like a scene from a film'
Police in France and the UK continue to probe last week's fatal shooting of four people in the French Alps. On Tuesday, the first person to alert the emergency services to the brutal killings spoke for the first time about the horror he had seen.
The first person to alert emergency services to the horrific murder of four people in the French Alps said he felt like he was "in a scene from a film".
The witness, from the Savoie region of the Alps, had planned a hike with two friends in the Alpine beauty spot on the afternoon of September 5, the day of the murders.
Speaking for the first time on Tuesday to French newspaper Aujourd’hui France / Le Parisien, the witness, known as Philippe D, recalled realising something terrible had happened when their car was approached by a panicked cyclist – the British former RAF serviceman who had discovered the crime scene.
"The man was coming down the road. He was clearly panicked and emotional. He tried to explain to me in broken French that something had happened further up the road," Philippe D said.
"He was trying to alert the emergency services, but either he did not have a phone or had no coverage."
Philippe D and his two friends then followed the cyclist back up the road where they found Saad al-Hilli, 50, his wife Ikbal, 47, and her 74 year-old mother shot dead in their car. Sylvain Mollier, a French cyclist who had also been gunned down, was lying metres away. It is believed Mollier, a father of three, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
'We had no idea if we were alone'
"I approached the car, but there was clearly no sign of life. I did not touch anything, and I realised there was nothing we could do," he said.
He then saw the couple's seven-year-old daughter Zainab lying near the car. She had been bludgeoned over the head and shot in the shoulder.
"She would not respond to us," Philippe D said. "I tapped her on the shoulder and said a few words in English, but she did not react. I presumed she was dead.
"It was like a film, except this time, we were the actors, and we did not have a remote control to change the channel," he said.
Unbeknown to him, the couple’s other daughter, four-year-old Zeena, was hiding, terrified and still, under the corpse of her mother. She lay there for the next eight hours until forensics officers discovered her around midnight.
"We had no idea whether we were alone or whether we were in danger or not. We had no idea whether the people that did this were still around."
He had to descend the mountain road in order to get a signal to call the police. Emergency services arrived within minutes of his call.
Unlike the British cyclist, Philippe D did not see a dark-coloured 4x4 and a motorbike driving away from the crime scene at the time of the murders.
Detectives are still trying to gather CCTV images from the Annecy region in the hope the two vehicles may have been caught on camera.
On Monday, police announced that only one weapon, a 7.65 mm automatic pistol, had been used in the attack, suggesting a sole killer had carried out the murders, but not denying the possibility of accomplices.
Seven-year-old Zainab, who was brought out of a coma on Sunday, has reportedly spoken to the police and ‘remembers’ the attack on her family, British newspaper The Times reported.
State prosecutor Eric Maillaud has said Zainab could prove to be the key witness, but he would have wait until he receives the green light from medical staff before his officers could question her at length.
French and British police officers were due to continue searching the al-Hilli home in Surrey on Tuesday, a day after a bomb squad was called in to investigate 'potentially dangerous' items. Surrey police later said the items were not 'hazardous'.
Detectives from both countries were expected to continue questioning friends, relatives and colleagues of Saad al-Hilli on Tuesday to see whether his private or professional life may hold the secret as to why he was gunned down along with his family.