Minute of silence for slain teacher in southwest France

French schools on Thursday held a nationwide minute of silence for a teacher stabbed to death the previous day by one of her pupils, who told investigators he had been hearing voices.

It was "a time for paying respects, emotion and solidarity," Education Minister Pap Ndiaye said as he joined the commemoration of Agnes Lassalle, 52.

"Our thoughts are with her, her family, her pupils and her colleagues," he added, hailing a "very dedicated" Spanish teacher who "spent most of her time preparing lessons... helping her pupils grow".

Pupils had on Thursday morning brought flowers including white roses in memory of the victim to her Saint Thomas Aquinas middle and secondary school in the southwestern seaside town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Lassalle had been a "good listener", a "very kind teacher", said Rudy, a middle school pupil who had a class with her last year.

"It's important to be here for her family, those close to her, her pupils," he added. "We have to lend strength to those who witnessed" the attack.

One teaching assistant who asked not to be named said: "It's going to be a tough day, I'm still very upset."

- 'Little voice' -

Ines, a 16-year-old schoolgirl who was in Lassalle's class Wednesday, said that the suspect approached the teacher and "plunged a big knife into her chest without saying anything".

Prosecutor Jerome Bourrier told reporters at a Thursday afternoon press conference in the nearby town of Bayonne that the 16-year-old male suspect said he had heard "a little voice talking to him" that "suggested he commit a murder".

"He described (the voice) as selfish, manipulating... urging him to do bad things," he added.

In "somewhat inconsistent" conversations with a psychiatrist, the boy said he had had a fight with a classmate the day before and wanted to "punish him in some way" by committing the killing in front of him, Bourrier said.

"He also admitted a kind of animosity towards his Spanish teacher, in a subject where he wasn't getting good grades, unlike his other classes," the prosecutor said.

The regional school authority described the attacker as a "very good" pupil at middle school and since joining high school in September.

Bourrier said that he had reported being bullied at his previous school and was being treated with antidepressants following a suicide attempt in October.

The prosecutor nevertheless added that the teenager was capable of bearing criminal responsibility for his acts and that prosecutors would request he be kept in custody during a probe into "premeditated murder".

- 'Frustration, exhaustion' -

Psychologists have been sent to the school to care for the students who witnessed the attack, as well as two other high school classes.

"We're speaking in class to say that we're available, and there's demand," said Elorri Amestoy, an emergency psychiatric doctor, describing "frustration, exhaustion (and) excesses of emotion" among people at the school.

Such attacks at schools are generally rare in France but there have been growing concerns about the security of teachers.

The attack in Saint-Jean-de-Luz is the first killing of a teacher in France since an Islamist radical beheaded Samuel Paty outside Paris in October 2020.

In July 2014, the mother of a pupil stabbed to death a 34-year-old teacher in the southern town of Albi. The perpetrator was later found to be legally irresponsible.

A Jewish school was targeted in the attacks carried out by Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah around Toulouse in 2012, with a teacher and three pupils shot dead.