CALAIS, France (AFP) - A Polish man has confessed to raping and killing a nine-year-old girl after snatching her from a French playground within view of her mother, in a crime that has shocked the country.
France was left reeling from the crime in the northern city of Calais, where flags were lowered to half mast as details emerged about how the girl, Chloe, was kidnapped, raped and strangled in the space of an hour and a half.
An estimated 5,000 people took part in a solemn march Thursday evening in Calais in her memory, according to local authorities.
The 38-year-old Polish suspect, who has a long criminal history and had served time in prison, confessed to the crime after being arrested on Wednesday night near the woods where the child’s naked body was found.
Chloe was playing with a friend on Wednesday afternoon when she approached the man, who had stopped his car to drink a beer, and sprayed him with a water pistol, prosecutor Jean-Pierre Valensi said at a press conference on Thursday.
SHOVED INTO CAR
The suspect told investigators he grabbed the child and forced her into the red car, driving her to the nearby woods where he sexually assaulted and killed her.
Chloe’s mother, who was present, screamed in panic as the man, described by witnesses as bald and wearing sunglasses, shoved her daughter into his car.
Police were alerted to the kidnapping at 3.30pm and search teams were dispatched, one of which made the grisly discovery of the child’s body at 5pm.
Forensic investigators reported evidence of “strangulation and sexual violence", said Valensi.
Nearby, police found the red vehicle with Polish number plates.
The driver, who was under the influence of alcohol, was arrested not far from the scene shortly afterwards.
The suspect “immediately admitted his involvement in the child’s death,” said Valensi.
THREATENED ANOTHER GIRL IN 2009
The man had served time in a French prison for robbery and extortion, and it emerged Thursday that he had already threatened another little girl in 2009.
David Selingue, a hairdresser in Calais, said his wife found the suspect in the room of his nine-year-old girl in June of that year, emerging from under a piece of furniture with a knife.
“He was pointing the blade towards her (his daughter) to threaten her,” Selingue told AFP, adding he then escaped through a window.
The suspect was handed over to Polish authorities in March last year after a Europe-wide arrest warrant was issued in his name.
Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart said France’s interior minister had assured her he would question Warsaw on the man’s actions since he was handed over.
Valensi said the man had arrived back in France on Wednesday morning and was planning to travel to England where his sister lived.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for full light to be shed on the suspect’s past, saying the family and community were “deeply shocked” by the murder.
“It is up to the legal system now to carry out the investigation and what we owe to the family is the whole truth,” he said.
The city of Calais was plunged into mourning by the killing of the girl described as “cheerful and full of life”.
Chloe’s parents, sister and two brothers led the march in her memory.
“It’s horrific,” a shocked mother of two told AFP outside Chloe’s school on Thursday morning, where a counselling unit has been set up.
“My son knew her, he didn’t sleep last night, he knows he will never see her again,” she said.