A 50-year-old man with a history of family problems shot himself dead on Thursday in a Paris primary school near the Eiffel Tower, in front of about a dozen stunned children.
Carrying a sawn-off shotgun, the man forced his way into the school in central Paris at 11:30am, pushing aside two adults who tried to stop him, said Francois Weil, the city’s top educational official.
After entering the building he placed the shotgun under his chin and fired, in view of several children aged six and seven, who were descending a staircase for their lunch break.
Police said there appeared to be no particular reason the man had chosen the school.
“There has been no link established between this desperate act and the school itself,” Paris police chief Bernard Boucault told reporters at the scene.
Police sources said the man had apparently been depressed after separating from his wife in 2009. He had been a longtime resident of the neighborhood and lived very close to the school.
A psychological support team was sent to the school to assist traumatized children.
“I heard a shot. I saw all the blood. I saw the man. I saw the man fall back when he shot himself. It was horrible,” a schoolgirl told France’s Europe 1 radio.
“There was a loud bang,” said Irene, the mother of a student. “Everyone ran away screaming.”
The La Rochefoucauld school is a private Catholic institution that hosts a nursery, as well as primary and secondary sections. It is located on Rue Cler in the city’s fashionable seventh district, also home to several embassies.
A boy who witnessed the gruesome suicide told Europe 1 he thought “terrorists had come into the school with pistols.”
“Many others cried like me. I was very scared,” he said.
French President Francois Hollande told a press conference he understood “the sadness of the nation sparked by this tragedy.”
“Everything will be done to support these children,” he said.
Paris Mayor Bernard Delanoe also expressed his “great sadness” at the incident and his “whole-hearted support for the little Parisians who were present” at the site of the tragedy.
Delanoe’s deputy Anne Hidalgo, who is running for the mayor’s job when he steps down next year, visited the school and said there had been a “rapid reaction” to the crisis.
However, Rachida Dati from the UMP party of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the mayor of the seventh district, said “the drama would not have unfolded ... if the man had not been allowed to enter.”
French Education Minister Vincent Peillon cut short a visit to Brussels and visited the school on Thursday afternoon. He defended school authorities, as well as the security measures in place, saying “the two women at the entrance tried to stop him.”