French schoolgirl, 14, dies from heart attack during lock-in to protect children from knifeman

The knifeman, who launched his assault outside the school at about 2pm on Thursday, targeting two girls aged 11 and 7 before fleeing the scene
The knifeman launched his assault outside the school about 2pm on Thursday, targeting two girls aged 11 and 7 before fleeing

A French teenager died from a heart attack during a lock-in to protect students from a knifeman attacking children outside their school.

The 14-year-old went into cardiac arrest early on Thursday afternoon as the attack unfolded in the town of Souffelweyersheim, in France’s northeastern Alsace region. She was taken to hospital but died later on Thursday.

The knifeman, who launched his assault outside the school about 2pm on Thursday, targeting two girls aged 11 and 7 before fleeing. The pair suffered minor injuries.

The 30-year-old attacker, who has not been named by police, struck the 11 year old in the neck before targeting the 7 year old. The younger girl also sustained wounds to her neck.

Police locked down the girls’ school and apprehended the suspect about 10 minutes later. The man had no criminal record and suffered “psychiatric frailties,” local officials said.

Police rule out terrorism

Police said he was not believed to have been radicalised and appeared to rule out any link to terrorism.

French media reported the man has received treatment for mental health problems in the past and attempted suicide in 2022. He was alleged to have been in a suicidal state when he carried out Thursday’s attack.

Officials were quick to address the death of the 14-year-old, calling it a “tragedy”.

“We are devastated, speechless,” Georges Schuler, the local mayor, told the AFP news agency.

He added an investigation into her death was ongoing amid uncertainty over whether she had suffered from a pre-existing heart condition.

Two girls sustained minor injuries in the attack
Two girls aged 11 and 7 sustained minor injuries in the attack - AFP

Nicole Belloubet, the minister of national education, also expressed her condolences.

“The loss of a young life, full of promise and a future, is a tragedy which upsets me, which upsets us. In the pain, all of national education is with its loved ones,” she said.

Thursday’s attack took place just hours after Gabriel Attal, the prime minister, delivered a hard-line message about youth violence and school security, prompted by the killing of a student at the hands of his classmates on the outskirts of Paris earlier this month.

15-year-old beaten to death

Speaking from Viry-Châtillon, where 15-year-old Shemseddine was beaten to death, Mr Attal vowed to crack down on youth violence by restoring authority and respect in schools.

Dismissing any notion that their age would shelter schoolchildren from impunity in instances of wrongdoing, Mr Attal warned “the culture of excuses is over”.

“You break, you repair; you dirty, you clean; you challenge authority, you learn to respect it,” he said.

The prime minister added the government was working on a series of measures aimed at restoring order, including fining parents of delinquent children, sending rule-breaking minors to public boarding schools, toughening criminal laws for young offenders, regulating screen time and expanding school opening hours for sixth form students from 8am to 6pm.

While school hours differ across France, most institutions begin classes between 8am to 8.30am and finish them between 4.30 pm to 5pm. Extended opening hours would be made a priority in low-income neighbourhoods, Mr Attal said.