Investigators discovered a live 4-year-old girl Thursday who had been hiding under the dead bodies of her family members for eight hours. The attack happened Wednesday on a road in the French Alps near the village of Chevaline. In total, four dead bodies were found. The bodies of a man and two women were found in a BMW sports utility vehicle with British license plates. The body of a French male cyclist was found nearby.
The 4-year-old girl was found after midnight, and was uninjured. She described hearing cries and asked investigators where her family was. Lieutenant-colonel Benoît Vinnemann, who is leading the investigation, said: “She had stayed under the bodies, lying on the floor, for close to eight hours and didn’t move throughout all that time. We were only able to find her when we were allowed entry to the crime scene.”
Public prosecutor Eric Maillaud said she was “terrorized, immobile, in the midst of the bodies.”
“As soon as the first forensics began, we were able to open the vehicle, and it was at that moment we discovered the little girl, around four years old, that nobody had seen, because she hadn’t moved, completely in shock and completely frozen.” Said Maillaud “It was very moving. She started smiling when she was in the arms of the gendarme who rescued her.”
The little girl’s older sister, age seven, was found in critical condition outside the car. The attacker or attackers violently beat the girl and left her lying in the road, Prosecutor Eric Maillaud told reporters in nearby Annecy. She will be operated on but her life is out of danger.
The man in the driver’s seat has been identified as a 50-year-old businessman Saad al Hilli from Claygate in Surrey. His wife Iqbal was among the dead. It hasn’t been proven, but the little girls are most likely the victims’ children. French officials have confirmed that the man and his family were staying at a nearby campsite, believed to be in the Saint-Jorioz area.
The bodies were found Wednesday by a British former air officer that happened to pass by while cycling. A number of rescuers- firefighters, medical workers, police- apparently looked over the crime scene after it was reported at 4 p.m., and then waited for special investigators to arrive.
Three out of the four victims were shot in the head, while the condition of the fourth victim is still being investigated. Mr. Maillaud said 15 cartridges were found around the car and that a “very large number” of shots had been fired. The firearm used in the killings is thought to be an automatic pistol. The bodies are due to be autopsied on Friday.
One theory is that the family was robbed and killed. The male cyclist was most likely a witness and killed in order to protect the attackers’ identities. The 7-year-old may be the only link to uncovering what really happened. “She seems to be pulling through. She was beaten and has a fractured skull at least. There are no witnesses. Only she may be able to tell us what happened, if she can manage to do that.” said Maillaud. “We don’t know when we will be able to question her and I would imagine she is in a state of shock.”
The Foreign Office is in close contact with French authorities and is seeking further information. One FCO spokesman said, “We are aware of the reports of the shooting and we are looking into these urgently. He also mentioned that the British Consular staff had arrived this morning and is on it’s way to the scene.
Special investigators from the National Gendarmerie’s Criminal Research Institute were sent to the area from Paris. Forensic scientists are also working diligently at the scene.
The area where the victims were discovered is a popular tourist destination known as “little Venice of the Alps” and is a center for swimming and watersports. French Journalist Leila Lamnaouer said a lot of English people live near Annecy and many spend their holidays there. French gangs working in an organized way are said to prey on such tourists.
A news website in France said investigators had begun inspecting a caravan used by the family at the campsite Le Solitaire du Lac, at Saint-Jorioz.
One woman said: “I saw the two women yesterday with the two little girls collecting apples. Everything seemed normal, but I didn’t know them. It was the first year that they had been seen here. It is terrible. The atmosphere is heavy, nobody is speaking.”
Police have blocked off the road where the bodies were found in order to investigate the situation. A sign at the mouth of the road reads “ Dangerous Road” in French, English and German. The sign is in reference to the road’s rough terrain, but it is all too fitting for this very unfortunate situation.
“We strictly don’t know why these people were killed,” Maillaud said.