A teenage pupil stabbed a teacher to death in the middle of a lesson at a school in southwest France on Wednesday, the regional prosecutor said.
The victim, Agnes Lassalle, 52, was teaching a Spanish class at the school in the seaside town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz when the 16-year-old attacked her with a knife, the prosecutor said.
“I didn’t see him get up but I saw him in front of the teacher,” classmate Ines, 16, told reporters.
“He was very calm. He got closer to her and plunged a big knife into her chest without saying anything,” she added.
The teacher was given emergency aid at the scene, but Bayonne prosecutor Jerome Bourrier told AFP she died of her wounds.
The pupil was arrested and a murder investigation has been opened, Bourrier said, adding he was not previously known to police.
Lassalle’s partner told broadcaster BFMTV she was “a very beautiful, very good person, who everyone loved.” He added she had been dedicated to her job to the extent she would spend time on work “even during the holidays.”
A source close to the case said that, by the time the police arrived on the scene at around 9:50 am, the attacker had been disarmed and other pupils isolated.
He had been carrying a blade some 10 centimetres (almost 4 inches) long, they added.
The pupil seemed to have acted in a “moment of madness”, rather than on any “terrorist motive” or “resentment”, the source said.
Ines, who witnessed the attack, said she did not really know the teenager.
“We’re just in Spanish class together. But there had never been a problem between him and the teacher in class,” she said.
– ‘Conscientious’ teacher –
The school, Saint-Thomas d’Aquin, is a private, Catholic-based establishment close to the centre of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, which in summer is one of France’s best-loved resorts on the sandy Basque country coast.
The teacher had long taught at the school and was “conscientious”, a representative from the FEP-CFDT teachers’ union said.
President Emmanuel Macron on Twitter said he was “extremely upset” by the stabbing.
He said he shared the grief of her family, colleagues and pupils, as well as that of “teachers who dedicate their life to passing on knowledge to future generations”.
“The nation is by your side,” said the president, whose wife is a former schoolteacher.
By lunchtime, pupils had started to leave the premises after being confined to their classrooms for around two hours after the incident.
Anxious parents were waiting for them but only those parents of the class where the stabbing happened were allowed to enter the school, an AFP reporter said.
France’s Education Minister Pap Ndiaye said all schools would observe a minute of silence for her on Thursdayat 3:00 pm.
Visiting the scene, Ndiaye saluted the victim’s “exceptional dedication” and her commitment to her pupils.
BFMTV said that the attacker had locked the classroom door and stabbed the teacher in the chest.
The channel quoted a source as saying that the boy then told another teacher that a “voice” had told him to carry out the action.
The investigation was to seek to determine his psychological state and motives.
No details have been released concerning his background.
– ‘Could have happened to me’ –
Such attacks at schools are generally rare in France but there have been growing concerns about the security of teachers.
In the past 40 years, there have been fewer than a dozen deadly attacks in schools.
The attack in Saint-Jean-de-Luz is the first killing of a teacher in France since the October 2020 beheading of Samuel Paty outside Paris by an Islamist radical.
In July 2014, a 34-year-old teacher was stabbed to death in the southern town of Albi by the mother of a pupil. 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.
In Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Maha Bargueche, a mathematics teacher from the Paris region who was holidaying in the area, placed a bouquet of flowers in front of the school “as a sign of support”.
“I’m very sad, it could have happened to me, it can happen to any teacher. That’s why I came immediately,” she said.