France alarmed by 'despicable' death of teenage girl who drowned in Seine

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The French government on Wednesday lambasted as "despicable" the drowning death of a 14-year-old girl whose beaten body was found in the Seine river after she was bullied at school and online over "compromising photos" shared by her classmates.

A boy and a girl, both 15, who attended the same school as the victim in Argenteuil on the outskirts of Paris were arrested Tuesday and brought before a judge with a view to being charged with murder, prosecutors said.

The killing late Monday has raised new concerns about juvenile crime in France after a spate of violence blamed on fighting between youth gangs.

Pupils interviewed by AFP outside the school in Argenteuil said the dispute started when photos of the victim "in underwear" circulated on the popular messaging service Snapchat.

The Cognacq-Jay high school said in a statement there was "tension between these three students after the victim's phone was hacked and compromising photos were posted by her two classmates".

"What happened to this young girl is utterly terrible and despicable," government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after a cabinet meeting chaired by President Emmanuel Macron.

"She was a victim of bullying, of a downward spiral that led to this drama," he added, vowing that those responsible would be punished.

"We know that bullying begins at school, it starts in the classroom and the playground," Attal said. "But what is new in recent years is that it continues online after class."

'Phone hacked'

The mother of the detained boy told police her son admitted that he and his friend had hit a young girl and she fell into the Seine, which flows through Argenteuil after leaving Paris.

Regional prosecutor Éric Corbaux said the judge had been asked to keep the pair under arrest on Wednesday and that during their initial detention they "had not shown immediate remorse".

As minors they risk up to 20 years in prison if convicted of murder.

Corbaux said the initial investigation had indicated that the victim had been beaten by the boy and then thrown into the Seine with the help of the girl while still alive. She then drowned.

"The victim at that time was still conscious. She was crying, her eyes open. The young man and the young girl would have grabbed the victim to throw her into the Seine below the quay. It is a very high quay made from concrete," said the prosecutor.

Asked about a possible motive for the attack, Corbaux said there had been rivalry between the two girls and a theft of photos of the victim.

The boy's mother told BFM TV her son had had a brief relationship with the victim before he met his current girlfriend.

"I think it was some kind of love triangle and they could not handle it," she said.

The victim's mother said the two suspects had previously issued death threats against her daughter. "They have ripped out my heart," she told BFM TV.

The school confirmed Wednesday that the two detained youths had already faced a disciplinary procedure over their behaviour towards the victim and that her mother had been advised to file a police complaint.

The pair had been banned from entering the school and had been summoned to appear before a disciplinary committee on Tuesday, the day after the victim was killed, the school said.

Worries about youth violence were already growing after a 15-year-old boy of Ukrainian origin was severely beaten in Paris in January. The attack was caught on video and went viral.

"Violence can not become normalised," said Attal, adding that there needed to be a "penal response for minors that was quicker and more effective".

Last week, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti chaired a meeting of justice and security officials to deal with the growing problem of teenage gangs, especially in the Paris region.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)