BELGIUM: Police have begun the grim task of trying to discover what led a mother to kill her five children and attempt suicide in one of the worst family tragedies to occur in Belgium.
Geneviève Lhermitte was charged with murder yesterday after police found the dead bodies of her four daughters and one son in their home in the town of Nivelles.
All the children had been stabbed and left lying on an upstairs bed by Ms Lhermitte, who has a history of psychological problems and was being treated for depression.
Officials said Yasmine (14), Nora (12), Myriam (10), Mina (8), and son Mehdi (3), were summoned one by one into a bedroom where they were stabbed by their mother.
It was unclear whether they put up any resistance. She then rang the emergency services after unsuccessfully trying to kill herself. A note reading "Call the police, urgent" had been taped to the front door of the family home in Nivelles, which is about 30km south of Brussels.
The children's father, Bouchaib Mokadem, was not in Belgium at the time of the killings, but was told of the tragedy by police officers yesterday.
Nivelles mayor Pierre Huart said that the murders had shocked the neighbourhood and children attending the same school as the five victims were receiving counselling.
"It's a family with five children, which is unusual. I think the family was well integrated and had a lot of contacts with the neighbours. Their children were particularly polite," said Mr Huart, who confirmed that the mother had left a suicide note in which she had said that she wanted to kill her children.
The note was delivered to her friend after the murders took place and is now being studied by specialists to discover clues to the mother's state of mind and motives.
Deputy prosecutor Bernard Goethals said the letter showed she had found herself in an inextricable psychological situation. "What happened seems to have been done with a lot of planning," he added.
Police interviewed Ms Lhermitte about the killings yesterday in the hospital where she is recovering from her suicide attempt. She is not in a life-threatening condition.
The murders dominated the front pages of most Belgian daily newspapers. "Why?" headlined Het Nieuwsblad; "Geneviève has cracked and killed her children," said Le Soir.