French police believe a deeply traumatised four-year-old girl who hid for eight hours under the bodies of her slain relatives, and her critically injured sister may hold the key to the gruesome murder of four people in an Alpine beauty spot.
The two girls were under extremely high protection as police hunted for the gunman who shot dead her parents and grandmother as well as a passing cyclist on Wednesday afternoon in what officials described as an “act of gross savagery”.
Three of the four victims were shot in the middle of the head with a semi-automatic pistol meaning the killer pulled the trigger for each shot, leading to fears the professional nature of the attack may indicate a contract killing. Police said they were not sure how the fourth person, believed to be the children’s mother, died.
The four-year-old, named in Britain as Zeena al-Hilli, asked for her family after she was finally pulled from the scene of carnage, “terrorised, motionless, in the midst of the bodies”, said a French official. British consular officials, despatched from Paris, were trying to comfort her and her older sister Zainab.
The dead man, who was found slumped over the steering wheel, has been named as Iraqi-born engineer Saad al-Hilli, 50, from Claygate in Surrey, but there was no official confirmation of his identity or those of the two women shot while sitting in the back of the car. One of them was reported to be carrying an Iraqi passport and the other a Swedish passport.
Their bodies were found in a British-registered BMW estate car near the picturesque village of Chevaline in the French Alps near where they had been camping…
Campers told the police there were 2 girls – sending them back to the untouched car
The body of French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, a local man and father of three children, who was on paternity leave, was found nearby.
The car engine was still running when a former Royal Air Force officer came across the vehicle whose windows had been shattered by bullets shortly before 4pm on Wednesday. He first spotted the body of the elder girl, who had been violently beaten to the head and left for dead near the car and, seeing she was still breathing, called the emergency services.
He then broke the driver’s window of the car to cut the ignition and saw the three bodies in the car. Nearby, the man recognised the body of a cyclist who had overtaken him on the hill leading to the beauty spot only minutes before.
It was not until almost eight hours later that police found the second little girl cowering in the footwell in the back of the car under the legs of the dead women, where she had not moved or made a sound.
At a press conference in Annecy, police said the child was only found after holidaymakers at the camping site where the family had stayed, told detectives there were two children and not one.
Cripes. I know a bit about forensics. Even more about the area – having camped there myself. Even the main road into Annecy can have significant spells of no traffic now that the main holiday season has ended. But, how could they miss this child left in the car?
That poor kiddie will be haunted by this the rest of her life. I hope the gendarmerie will be able to solve this terrible crime.