Killings in French Alps leave police searching for motive
The seven-year-old, meanwhile, was brought by helicopter to hospital in the city of Grenoble, where she was placed in a medically-induced coma and operated on. She had suffered “very serious head fractures” and had been shot in the shoulder, Mr Maillaud said, but her condition was “slowly improving” yesterday. Both girls were placed under police protection in hospital.
The four-year-old – the only one to escape unharmed – was being cared for by a child psychologist, and police said they hoped to “gently question” her later.
As darkness fell, police carried out door-to-door inquiries at the 70 homes in Chevaline, the hamlet that lies within the boundaries of the Parc Naturel Régional du Massif des Bauges near Lake Annecy, a picturesque region popular with tourists.
By yesterday morning, with a 60-strong team assigned to the investigation, police had already begun to piece together the sequence of events. The car was a British-registered BMW belonging to an Iraqi-born British national named by French media as Saad al-Hilli (50) from Surrey in southern England. The victims in the back seat were believed to be his wife and his mother, who had a Swedish passport. They had arrived at a campsite at Saint-Jorioz, 8km from Chevaline, on Monday and were due to leave at the end of the week.
Three of the victims had been shot in the middle of the head by what police believe was a semi-automatic pistol. Some 15 bullet casings were found at the scene, but only the windows of the car had been shot at, suggesting the firing may not have been indiscriminate.
Mr Maillaud played down suggestions of “professionalism” in the attack, however: “I won’t say it was professional, what I will say is it was tremendous savagery. And what is certain is that somebody wanted to kill.”
Officials admitted, however, that the circumstances surrounding the killings remained mysterious. No arrests had been made as of last night, nor did police report the discovery of any weapon at the scene. Some witnesses reported seeing a car speeding away from the area around the time the attack took place, and police identified tyre marks near the crime scene, but they have not established a firm link.
There were reports of an attempted armed car-jacking later on Wednesday just 50 miles away, but officials said there was nothing to suggest a connection.
And then there’s the most perplexing question of all: the motive. At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Mr Maillaud said the inquiry team had hypotheses but these were “just conjecture at the moment”. “We don’t know who could have done this. We have no idea.”