Parents in France waited in agony after news of Westminster attack

Jon Henley
French police outside Lycée Saint-Joseph, in Brittany, on Wednesday. Photograph: Sandra Ferrer/AFP/Getty Images

The mother of a French teenager wounded in the attack on Westminster thought for an hour that he was dead before hearing that he had been injured, it emerged on Thursday.

The student, named as Thomas, suffered a head injury and multiple leg fractures in the attack on Wednesday, Le Télégramme reported. “It was the school who told us yesterday afternoon the attack had taken place and our son was one of the victims,” his mother said.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, visited three French schoolchildren wounded in the attack as they recovered in a London hospital on Thursday.

They were among a group of 36 pupils from years 11 and 12 at the Lycée Saint-Joseph school in Brittany who were walking along the pavement from the parliament buildings to Westminster Bridge when they were struck by a car driven by the attacker.

The mother of Thomas said that for some time after the school’s initial call, they “had no idea whatsoever about his health”. She added: “My husband and I thought he had died. After an hour we were told he was injured. It felt extremely long.”

Terrorism had already claimed a former pupil of the school, which is in the fishing and tourism town of Concarneau; the victim then, in November 2015, was Estelle Rouat, one of 89 people who lost their lives in the massacre at the Bataclan concert hall during the Paris terror attacks.

French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, right, with the UK foreign minister Alan Duncan, centre, in London. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty

The parents of the pupils injured on Wednesday in London – who are being treated in St Thomas’ hospital for serious but non life-threatening injuries – were flown to London by military aircraft on Wednesday night, Le Télégramme reported.

Friends and classmates were receiving psychological counselling at the school on Thursday, Ouest-France newspaper said, adding that the first some had heard of the attack was on the television news. Others had received text messages or phone calls from friends who were on the week-long visit to London organised by the school.

“I was right there,” Johan, a year-11 pupil, told the paper from the group’s hotel. “We saw the car coming up on us, from the side. Three boys were hit. Given the force of impact I think they must be badly hurt.”

Johan said that after the car had crashed into the railings outside parliament, the driver “got out and ran in”. He said: “We were already backing away … we heard two gunshots, and saw people on the ground. A lot of people were crying. One fainted.”

Speaking outside the school, one pupil, Chloé, told the AFP news agency she had “no words” to describe how she felt. “Someone called me from the scene. She was in tears and really shocked. They are all in shock, really all in shock. I’m shocked, too.”

Victoire, another pupil, told the agency that friends of hers were in the group. “We just want them to come back soon,” she said. “We’ve spoken to them on the phone and they’ve all said they just want to come home.”

A total of 93 pupils from Saint-Joseph were on the trip. With the exception of the injured three, all were due to fly home Thursday.

Ayrault described the attack as “a new tragedy” and “a direct attack on ... the oldest parliament in the world, Westminster”. He said he wanted to send his “gratitude to the British people” for their support during recent terror attacks in France.

The counter-terrorism section of the Paris public prosecutor’s office said on Thursday that it had ordered an investigation of the attack by the the DGSI internal intelligence service for “attempted assassination related to a terrorist enterprise”.

The mother of a girl in the group said she had gone to the school “to find out what was happening now”. Her daughter had been on Westminster Bridge, she said: “She saw everything, she saw her friends injured, she saw the terrorist get out of the car.” She told AFP that the group was being questioned by British police at their hotel, but added: “That’s all I know.”