Thursday, May 23, 2013
The Associated Press
ANNECY, France — For at least eight hours, the 4-year-old girl lay motionless, frightened and alone, hiding under her dead mother's skirt on the floor of a BMW after a killing spree in the French Alps. As the hours ticked by, police peered through the car's windows at the lifeless bodies of her parents and grandmother.
An investigator enters the trailer where the slain British family were holidaying in a camp site of Saint Jorioz, near Annecy, France Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. A 4-year-old British girl hid for eight hours beneath the bodies of slain family members in the back of their car in a nearby forest, before she was discovered by French investigators who had been guarding the vehicle, a prosecutor said Thursday. Three people — a man and two women — had been shot to death, as was a French cyclist whose body was found nearby. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Only after police forensic experts finally arrived shortly before midnight from Paris, peeling back the blood-stained layers of the grisly crime scene, did the girl crawl out apparently unharmed — asking, with a smile and hugs, where her family was.
The motive for the slayings of the family and a French cyclist whose body was found nearby remained unclear Thursday, a day after the bodies were found in a wooded area up a mountain road from the village of Chevaline, near bucolic Annecy Lake.
Earlier, rescuers had whisked the child's wounded 7-year-old sister to a hospital as helicopters scanned the area. All the while, immobilized by fear, the girl had remained huddled alone, steps away from investigators.
Never did they think anyone else was still alive.
"The girl was found totally immobile behind the front passenger-side seat, under the legs — under the skirt — of one of the women, hidden behind a large travel bag, totally invisible and silent, which explains why no one saw her before," French state prosecutor Eric Maillaud told a news conference in Annecy.
The case took on international ramifications, with links that tied the slain family to Britain, Iraq and Sweden.
The murders first came to light when a British cyclist telephoned authorities after passing the body of the slain Frenchman. The Briton — a former Royal Air Force pilot — then saw the badly wounded older girl lunging toward him. The car's motor still running, he laid the child on the ground to give her first aid that French authorities said saved her life.
The go-ahead to open up the car and start unraveling the mystery was given only after police forensic experts flew in — hours after the British cyclist's call. Authorities insisted they didn't want to compromise the crime scene.
Maillaud said three of the victims — the man, the elderly woman and the French cyclist — had gunshot wounds to the head, while the cause of death of the younger woman was still under investigation.
"We strictly don't know why these people were killed," Maillaud said, adding that about 15 bullet casings were found around the car. "What is certain is that someone wanted to kill."
He said authorities were searching for suspects and had not ruled out anything, including the possibilities that the attack was intended to settle a score or simply that the family was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
The two children were put under police protection, and the prosecutor warned that the killer might try to "get rid of" witnesses to a "scene of immense savagery."
Maillaud said the BMW station wagon was registered to a British man born in Baghdad in 1962. The man, whom he did not identify, had lived in Britain since at least 2002, and his family had been in France since August, camping at Annecy Lake since Monday.
The Sipa news agency identified the driver as Saad al Hilli, a resident of a London suburb. Public records identified him as a mechanical engineer and his LinkedIn page described him as an aerospace consultant.
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