Former teacher in France surrenders after holding 22 hostage in school

Thursday, March 9, 2006

The man who took at least 22 people hostage in Colbert de Torcy High School near Le Mans, France, most of whom were teenagers, surrendered without incident.

Reports indicated 20 of the hostages were students, and two others were adults, possibly school employees. This was higher than initial reports of 18 students and two adults. According to a school receptionist, Bernadette Mercier, the students ranged in age from 17 to 18 years old. The school holds up to 1,500 students. No one was harmed in the incident.

The situation began when the man, aged 33, walked into Colbert de Torcy High School at 1:00 PM GMT, Thursday afternoon and officials say he was suffering from depression. "We knew him, so we simply let him in," Mercier said. "He seemed totally normal."

The hostage-taker was reported to be armed with a gun, which later turned out to be fake.

The man had lost his job as a substitute teacher at the school two years ago. He was quoted as saying he "wants to talk to the press about his employment problems." He's also asked to speak with François Fillon, the local mayor and former French education minister. Mr. Fillon was the author of an education reform program.

Students were allowed to use their mobile phones to communicate with their families according to Jean Luc Prigent, head of security for the Le Mans region which includes the school. A special hotline was set up, along with a crisis center for parents of the students.

A hostage rescue team called the GIGN, was dispatched to the scene, coming by helicopter from Villacoublay Military Airport just west of Paris.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said he was paying close attention to the situation.

The school is located in northwestern France in Sablé-sur-Sarthe near the city of Le Mans.