Police have confirmed they have found a four-year-old girl alive hiding under the bodies of the three British victims of a fatal shooting in the French Alps.
The discovery came after a heat-seeking thermal camera had failed to identify any other bodies in the UK registered car.
“Once the criminal investigators had arrived and the first measures had been taken we were able to open the vehicle and that is when we discovered a small child, around four years old, who nobody had seen as she was not moving,” explained the local public prosecutor Eric Millaud.
Apparently too scared to move, the little girl went unnoticed by police for some eight hours until investigators finally opened the doors of the car to begin a close forensic inspection.
“She’s clearly shocked but she’s doing okay. She’s not injured,” Maillaud said. “She started smiling and speaking English as soon as a gendarme from the Chambery search brigade took her in his arms and got her out of the car,” he added.
Another young girl, thought to be aged around seven or eight, remains in a critical condition after being helicoptered to hospital. The prosecutor said she had been beaten on the head: “She was struck very violently and apparently has skull fractures.”
The shooting happened near the village of Chevaline in a secluded forested parking area close to Annecy lake, not far from the French border with Switzerland. The area is popular with British tourists.
Reuters reported a source close to the investigation as saying the owner of the car, who was found dead at the wheel, was an Iraqi-born Briton called Saad al-Hilli from Surrey in southern England.
Around 60 police are involved in the investigation which they are calling “multiple murder”. The three bodies in the car are believed to be the young girls’ mother, father and grandmother.
The body of a fourth person, a French cyclist thought to be a resident of the area, was found near the car while another cyclist who discovered the bodies around four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon was said to be in shock.
Some 15 spent bullet casings from an automatic weapon were found at the crime scene.