Gunman Kills Four At Jewish School In France

Mar 19, 2012
Originally published on March 19, 2012 4:21 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Police in southwestern France have connected multiple recent killings to one gun; killings that may have been motivated by racism. The latest murders occurred this morning at a Jewish school in Toulouse. The gunman opened fire, killing three children and one adult. It was the third attack in the region in the last eight days.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Toulouse, where he called the shooting a national tragedy.

NICOLAS SARKOZY: (Foreign language spoken)

SIEGEL: President Sarkozy said: Barbarism, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hatred cannot win. The republic is much stronger than that - he said - much stronger.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Toulouse and joins us now. And Eleanor, today's attack occurred just before classes started. The man arrived on a motorcycle. What more can you tell us about the attack and the victims?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: That's right, Robert. I went to the school today. I arrived here, you know, after the shooting, obviously. And there were still a lot of parents and students and just, you know, neighborhood people - the school was in a really nice, quiet neighborhood of Toulouse - still standing out the street. And I spoke with witnesses who actually saw it.

And they said about 8 o'clock in the morning, you know, tons of students and their parents were out in front of the school because actually, it was a pickup point for a bus to another Jewish school, just for younger children. This was like, a middle school, and people would bring their smaller children to go to a - take a bus to a, you know, an elementary school.

And so he pulled up and apparently, shot a rabbi, who was the teacher at the school; and his two children, who were ages 3 and 6; and then walked into the school. And there was a younger girl - 8 years old - and point-blank held the gun to her temple and shot her, and then calmly got on his motorcycle and left.

People said he was dressed in black - and, you know, everything - his face was covered; but a few witnesses said he had very clear, green eyes. People were very shaken up; it was like a state of shock. And you could feel that the neighbors and people involved actually wanted to talk about it. They were all out there, It was just a scene, all day long.

SIEGEL: Now, this is the third attack on unarmed people in the region. Where were the previous attacks, and who was targeted in those?

BEARDSLEY: That's right. We've been hearing about those and those were kind of strange because, you know, paratroopers outside of military bases were attacked - again, by a guy on a motorcycle who pulled up, all in black, and had obviously - knew who he was going to go after because one report says he pushed an old man out of the way to shoot a guy. And there was a couple guys getting money out of, you know, an ATM machine outside of the base.

So in two different attacks, he killed three other people. Now, police are saying it's the same - he left his cartridges everywhere on the ground, wasn't careful - it's the same gun. They've got the license plate of the scooter - it's the same - you know - moto, they're calling it. And we think it's the same person.

SIEGEL: And again, his victims in those prior shootings, while they were all in the military, the notion that these were racist killings - the connection here, I gather, is that they've been identified as having been either - three of them North African, and one West Indian.

BEARDSLEY: That's right. Three of the people targeted were Arab Muslims serving in the French military. And one was from the Antilles so he was, you know, dark - black. And then today, it was Jewish children. I mean, who kills soldiers and children? So it's a very strange mix. And people are very much on edge by someone who would go after these different, you know, kinds of people.

SIEGEL: And do we know anything about the search for the suspect?

BEARDSLEY: Well, they're talking about that - everyone is on edge because there's a manhunt going on in France. Yeah, people are saying, you know, they can't quite figure out who would kill these disparate people. But they're saying - the biggest theory is that it's some sort of racist, neo-Nazi person who targeted Muslims and Jews and Africans. And that's the biggest thing we're going on now.

And everyone - you know, there's high-security. And they're saying he could be a terrorist or a serial killer, and he may strike again.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, speaking to us from Toulouse in France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.