French police began collecting DNA samples from hundreds of students and staff at a school in western France on Monday in an attempt to identify the assailant who raped a teenage girl last year.
Police in La Rochelle began testing more than 500 male pupils and staff in their hunt for the perpetrator of the assault on a 16-year-old girl in the toilets of Fenelon-Notre-Dame high school last September.
Two police officers were deployed at the Catholic school to take saliva samples from the 475 students, 31 teachers and 21 other staff members believed to have been present at the time of the attack.
The victim was raped in the dark and unable to identify her attacker but police managed to retrieve a DNA imprint the equivalent of a unique genetic barcode from her clothing.
The DNA tests, ordered by public prosecutor Isabelle Pagenelle, are due to be completed by mid-week, with results expected in a month.
'Looking for the match'
“The choice is simple for me,” Pagenelle told reporters. “Either I wait for a match in what could be several years, or I go looking for the match myself.”
“We must have the consent both both the parents and the minor,” she added, “but those who say no will become potential suspects who could be taken into custody.”
Authorities said samples that do not match the DNA found on the victim will be destroyed.
“The operation began calmly at 8 a.m.,” Anne-Sophie Guilbot, a spokeswoman for the Fenelon-Notre-Dame school, told Reuters.
Many of the students said they were willing to give samples in the hope of tracking down the rapist.
"Everyone is participating without too much hassle because we stand by the girl who was raped and want to find whoever was responsible," said Lucas, a 17-year-old student.
Concerned about their own security, some students asked why the authorities had waited so long after the attack before carrying out the tests.
“I don't know why it took so long, it's not normal. The rapist may have been in the school for the past seven months,” said 16-year-old Margaux.
Others have condemned the mass test as a violation of civil rights.
“Refusing to give a DNA sample when not in custody is a right,” prominent lawyer Joseph Cohen-Sabban told Le Figaro newspaper.
French courts rarely order mass DNA tests, and when they do they generally target specific categories of people.
The only example of blanket sampling was in Pleine-Fougères (Brittany), where British schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson was murdered in 1996 and police tested more than 400 inhabitants the following year.
Francisco Arce Montes, a Spanish national, was not among those tested but he was arrested in the US in 2001 and convicted of the murder through an individual DNA match.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, Reuters)
Date created : 2014-04-14