A 16-year-old student has been arrested after allegedly opening fire at Alexis de Tocqueville High School in the southern French town of Grasse. More than a dozen people were injured in the incident, including the headmaster.
The government minister for victims' affairs, Juliette Méadel, told BFM TV that three students and the headmaster were shot. Ten others were injured, some in a stampede that followed the shooting, while others were reportedly suffering from shock.
The shooter was armed with a rifle, two handguns and two grenades, a police source said, adding: "The individual does not seem to be known to the police."
The suspect has been identified by the interior ministry. However, FRANCE 24 does not publish the names of suspects who are minors.
He appears to have acted alone, despite initial media reports of a second attacker at the scene.
Christian Estrosi, the head of the regional government in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, where Grasse is located, said that early indications pointed to someone with "psychological problems".
Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem described the shooting as the “crazy act of a fragile young man [who was] fascinated by weapons”.
"The head teacher rushed towards [the student] to try to reason with him," Vallaud-Belkacem said, calling his response "heroic".
"We avoided the worst," she added.
French Prosecutor Fabienne Atzori said that the shooter’s motivations “appear to be linked” to his troubled relationships with other students. Regional newspaper Nice Matin reported that the suspect had been a victim of bullying at the school.
Atzori said the suspect initially burst into a classroom looking for specific students. After failing to find them he left, only to be accosted by the headmaster. At that point he shot the school principal in the shoulder and a student in the stomach.
Police arrived quickly and he put up no resistance when arrested. He is currently in custody at the police station in Grasse.
Interest in mass shootings
The suspect is the son of an ultra-conservative local councillor in Grasse. His social media accounts reveal an interest in weapons and mass shootings, including the infamous attack on Columbine High School in the United States in 1999 that left 13 people dead.
“The first investigations suggest he had consulted videos of mass killings in America,” Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters.
His Facebook profile photo, of a long-haired, trench coat-clad skeleton wielding two assault rifles, is lifted from the controversial mass-shooting game, Hatred, designed by the Polish-based Destructive Creations. The game -- featuring a misanthropic sociopath on a “genocide crusade” -- was temporarily removed from gaming sites in 2014, and the head of Destructive Creations has dismissed allegations that his fans are linked to neo-Nazi groups.
The cover photo on the suspect’s Facebook page is of Batman villain The Joker, featuring the quote: “Give a man a mask and he’ll become his true self.”
A video posted on his Facebook page appeared to show him wearing a gas mask and using a toy gun to shoot at the camera and then himself. Three days before the shooting he changed his profile picture to an image of a man in a long black cloak and a skull mask carrying automatic weapons.
Jean-René Laget, a member of the same small right-wing party as the suspect’s father, told Reuters that the young man had not caused any trouble before.
“He is a totally normal young man who made no waves, a bit timid. Nobody would have thought he would be able to do something like that,” he said.
Hours after the shooting at the high school, the Facebook page of the suspect’s father was inundated with sarcastic messages reminding the ultra-conservative councillor of his promise to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility in France from 18 to 16 years.
Some students were placed on lockdown inside the building during the attack while others were evacuated. Education official Emmanuel Ethis said on Twitter that worried parents should not come to the school and that all the students were safe.
Benjamin, a 16-year-old student, described what he saw from the school lunchroom.
“Around 12:40pm, I was sitting down and finishing my meal. I heard a loud explosion and then two more. I turned and saw someone in the courtyard shooting with a pump-action shotgun. He shot at the classroom windows that face the courtyard. When I saw that I started running.”
Police cordoned off the area and a police helicopter circled overhead throughout the afternoon in what is normally a relatively quiet corner of France. Known as the country's picturesque perfume capital, Grasse lies 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the southern coastal city of Nice.
Estrosi later took to Twitter to thank police for their help in preventing what could have been a greater tragedy.
Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve cut short a trip to the northern Somme area in light of the day's events, which included an earlier letter bomb at the offices of the International Monetary Fund in Paris that injured one person. He and the education minister arrived in Grasse in the afternoon.
The incidents come as France remains under a state of emergency after several militant attacks over the past two years. It also comes less than six weeks before the first round of a presidential election in which security and terrorism are among the key issues.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-03-16