France shootings: Girl hid under bodies in car

The car has been taken away from the scene in the French Alps.

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A four-year-old girl has been found hiding inside a British-registered car in which three bodies were discovered eight hours earlier, French police say.

The three are thought to be British - a husband and wife, and a grandmother. They were found near Lake Annecy, a popular tourist destination.

The girl had been under the legs of one of the women. An older girl from the family was found shot outside the car, in a critical condition.

A local cyclist was killed nearby.

Start Quote

She was hidden under the bodies for some eight hours and didn't move for the whole time”

End Quote Prosecutor Eric Maillaud

French police say they are shocked and baffled by the brutality of the shooting, in the middle of the afternoon, in a popular tourist region, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Annecy.

The girl found away from the car - thought to be seven or eight years old - was shot three times and seriously injured, and the younger daughter - only four - hid beneath her mother and was not even found until midnight, our correspondent says.

In the UK, Surrey police have said they are assisting the French authorities and liaising with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) following the shooting.

"This is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the French police and we are unable to confirm any details about the incident," they said in a statement.

Long wait

The younger girl was initially not spotted inside the BMW estate car, as local police waited for the arrival of the forensic scientists from Paris.

Killings timeline

map of area

1. Family staying at Le Solitaire du Lac camp site in Saint Jorioz

2. 1550 (1450 GMT): Cyclist discovers murder scene at car park

3. 1600: French police alerted

4. Critically injured eight-year-old girl flown to hospital

5. Midnight: four-year-old girl found alive in car

It was not until 23:00 (21:00 GMT) that local police found out from the family's neighbours at a nearby campsite that the family had a second daughter, and launched a new search involving a helicopter and police dogs, one report says.

The head of the investigation, Benoit Vinneman, said there were several reasons why the girl was not found earlier, according to Le Parisien newspaper:

  • Local police were told not to disturb the scene before the arrival of forensics
  • They did not want to compromise the ballistics investigation by opening the car doors because some of the windows had cracks made by the bullets
  • A helicopter with thermal imaging was also used, but did not detect the girl, who may have been concealed under the bodies

Officials at the scene also tried to look through the car windows, but could not detect any movement.

Some 15 spent cartridges from an automatic pistol were found at the crime scene.

Theories for the motive behind the brutal attack include an armed robbery gone wrong, a drug deal interrupted, even a family row, our correspondent says.

Prosecutor Eric Maillaud said the family was on a camping holiday on the edge of Lake Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region.

"Given what we see, it is certain that a criminal line of inquiry is to be number one," said the prosecutor.

"After that, all theories are possible, it could also be in absolute a family drama, this is not excluded," Mr Maillaud added.

Mr Vinnemann said: "The three bodies found in the car appear to be the father, mother and grandmother.

"It is in any case a family, according to British people at the Saint-Jorioz camping site who reported their disappearance on Wednesday night," he added.

Mr Guillamet, camper: "The car was riddled with bullets"

Identity search

Mr Maillaud said the little girl, who spoke English, was found hiding under the legs of one of the women at about midnight local time (22:00 GMT).

He said the girl, who is being looked after by French authorities, was only found when special investigators reached the scene - long after police had sealed off the area.

"She was hidden under the bodies for some eight hours and didn't move for the whole time," he said.

He added: "The little girl spoke English. She had heard the noises, the cries, but she couldn't say more - she is only four years old."

The older girl, who was taken by helicopter to hospital, was said to be in a more stable condition on Thursday morning, according to officials.

The older girl was initially reported to have died of her injuries, but Mr Maillaud, who had announced her death, later issued a correction.

The bodies were found in a car park in a quiet, forested area in the foothills of the Alps.

The cyclist found shot dead nearby has been named by a local paper.

Another cyclist who came across the scene at about 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT) on Wednesday was said to be in shock.

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