French police free kids held hostage by teen swordman
French police used a stun gun to overpower a suicidal sword-wielding teenager who burst into a nursery school Monday and took hostage 21 children and their teacher, officials said.
The teacher held for several hours along with her pupils aged three and four however said that despite the fact that the 17-year-old never let go of his two 30 centimetre (foot-long) swords, she did not feel they were in danger.
"He looked completely lost and stayed huddled in a corner," Nathalie Roffet told AFP after her release from the school in the eastern city of Besancon, adding that she saw him "crying into the phone" as he negotiated with police.
The youth, whom officials named only as K. because he is a minor, marched into the kindergarten with parents dropping off their charges and entered Roffet's class.
"This is a hostage-taking, close the curtains," he ordered, according to Roffet, who did what she was told. But one of her two assistants managed to sneak out and raise the alarm.
As the rest of the one-storey school was evacuated, the teenager himself contacted the police, Roffet said. He was persuaded to release most of them in batches over the course of the morning but kept five.
Meanwhile an elite police unit specialising in hostage situation moved into the Charles-Fourier school on a public housing estate in Planoise, a district on the western edge of Besancon.
As worried parents waited anxiously outside the police security perimeter, Roffet calmly suggested that her charges needed to eat. Police outside the door called them out one by one until only the youth and the teacher were left.
Police then moved in and overpowered him with a Taser stun gun, a police union official said.
Education Minister Luc Chatel, who had rushed to the scene, said, "He is a clearly depressive individual who never had any other demand but to put an end to his own life."
Chatel praised Roffet, a teacher in the school for five years, for her coolness.
The children and their families were being given psychological counselling to ensure that "this incident is no more than a bad memory," he said.
Besancon mayor Jean-Louis Fousseret said the youth lived in Planoise with his mother, went to a nearby college and had never been in trouble with the law.
Azzedine Kahaoua, the father of one girl held in the school, said: "When we heard that he was armed, we were terrified. But when we found out it was a kid of 17, who was psychologically unstable, that reassured us."
"We knew he was doing it more for himself than against our children," he said.
Hostage-taking at French nursery schools is extremely rare. But 1993 saw a notorious case in the chic Paris suburb of Neuilly, where President Nicolas Sarkozy was then mayor.
An armed man calling himself "Human Bomb" took a class of 21 children hostage and demanded a ransom of the equivalent of 15 million euros.
Police shot him dead and the children were freed unharmed.
© 2010 AFP