May 25, 2013
Girl found alive under corpses of slain family in France
A family shot dead near a famed tourist site in the French Alps were British residents of Iraqi origin, police said, as fellow campers expressed shock over the brutal crime.
Wednesday's shooting near Lake Annecy claimed the lives of four people -- a father, mother and grandmother in a British-registered BMW estate and a passing cyclist.
Two daughters survived the attack. One of them, who was found shot by the side of the car, was in hospital in a serious but stable condition.
Her four-year-old sister emerged from the car unscathed after spending hours tucked between the bullet-riddled corpses of her mother and grandmother on the backseat of the car.
The little girl spent eight hours concealed on the back seat of her family's car following a mysterious and brutal gun attack which also left her elder sister seriously injured and killed a passer-by.
Her father, who was found dead in the driver's seat, was identified as Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old born in Baghdad but resident in Claygate, Surrey in the southeast of England.
The fourth man who died is believed to be a local who happened to be cycling past the scene of the crime.
The girl's elder sister, who was found shot next to the car, was in a serious but stable condition in hospital after being flown by helicopter to the nearby city of Grenoble where she was visited Thursday by a British consular official.
Eric Maillaud, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, said the four-year-old had emerged unscathed.
"She stayed, curled up under the bodies for eight hours and didn't move in all that time," he said.
The first police to arrive on the scene did not spot the girl and, with the car being left untouched and the area sealed off pending the arrival of forensic experts, she was left to endure a traumatic ordeal until she was finally discovered around midnight.
"It was only once we had access to the scene of the crime that we found her," Maillaud said.
"The little girl spoke English. She heard noises, shouts but she can't tell us any more than that. She is only four years old.
"She is being looked after and we are doing everything we possibly can to care for her."
The family had been staying at the nearby Saint Jorioz camp site, where fellow campers who reported their disappearance on Wednesday evening had described them as being of Middle Eastern appearance.
The family were described by fellow campers at the Saint Jorioz site on the shore of Lake Annecy as being dark-haired with olive skin.
Dutch camper Petra Kroon told reporters: "The mother had light brown skin and long black hair. I thought they were gypsies."
Another camper, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two girls had dark hair and the grandmother wore a full-length black dress.
Chevaline and the surrounding area on the shores of Lake Annecy is popular with tourists, including many Britons.
A sense of shock pervaded the three-star Le Solitaire du Lac site as campers struggled to come to terms with the shocking assault.
"It's difficult to understand that something like this has taken place in a holiday site," said Frenchman Jean-Claude Guillamet.
"It's created a chill, one can see that people here are very moved."
"It's dreadful, it's dramatic, above all for the children," added Mary-Blanche Sibille, another camper.
Open from Mid-April to mid-September, the park offers tents, caravans and accommodation in mobile homes. It is surrounded by fields and the area attracts tourists from all over Europe for its stunning scenery and water sports.
French authorities said the victims were discovered by a passing cyclist around 3:50 pm Wednesday. The cyclist who was killed had overtaken him minutes earlier.
Several witnesses reported seeing a car speeding away from the scene around the time the attack took place.
Experts from the national gendarmerie's IRCGN unit collected DNA evidence from the scene and were checking spent bullet cartridges in an attempt to identify the weapons used.
Local police defended the decisions that led to the four-year-old being left in the car for so long.
"We had instructions not to enter the car and not to move the bodies," Lieutenant-Colonel Benoit Vinnemann of the local gendarmerie told reporters.
The gendarmes were unable to open the doors of the family's BMW for fear that bullet-pierced windows would shatter, potentially compromising the work of the IRCGN forensic team.
"Firemen, technicians and doctors all looked into the car through the holes in the windows but none of them saw the girl," Vinnemann added.
A helicopter equipped with a thermal camera took images of the car to check if there were any other bodies inside but also failed to identify the girl. "She was so close to her mother they appeared as one mass," said Vinnemann.