Three French police officers shot dead as they respond to domestic violence call

French gendarmes standing guard near where three gendarmes were shot and killed, in Saint-Just, France, on Dec 23, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - Three French police officers were shot dead by a man when they arrived at a home in a remote village in central France to respond to a domestic violence call, authorities said on Wednesday (Dec 23).

A woman who was the reported victim of the violence was taken to safety by police, along with her child who was also in the house at the time of the incident, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

The house caught fire, police said, and the suspected gunman, who was known to law enforcement over child maintenance issues, was later found dead in his car. It was not immediately clear how he died or where the car was located.

Police had previously said the man was armed and they were trying to track him down. The incident took place in a hamlet in the commune of Saint-Just, about 500 km southeast of Paris.

President Emmanuel Macron offered condolences to the families of the dead officers.

"To protect us, our forces act putting their lives at risk. They are our heroes," Macron wrote on Twitter.

A fourth officer was wounded in the attack and his injuries were not life-threatening, the interior ministry said. Officials did not comment on the motive.

The suspected gunman was 48 and known to law enforcement for non-payment of child maintenance, according to an official in the prosecutor's office in the nearby city of Clermont-Ferrand.

Mr Guy Gorbinet, mayor of the town of Ambert, where the police officers killed in the attack were based, said the man and his family had moved to the area five or six years ago. He said they did not get involved in community life.

Officers from the local gendarme police service arrived at the house in the hamlet early in the morning, after receiving reports about a woman who had been beaten by her partner, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Officer Arno Mavel, 21, died from his injuries, the ministry said. In a second unit of reinforcements, Lieutenant Cyrille Morel, 45, and adjutant Remi Dupuis, 37, were both killed, it said.

Mr Darmanin, the interior minister, said the killed officers between them had four children.

At one point, the woman reported to be the victim of domestic violence took refuge on the roof of the house, according to French broadcaster BFM TV, before police were able to bring her to safety. The gunman set the house on fire, BFM reported, destroying the property.

After the shootings, police commanders sent in a rapid-response unit, deployed reinforcements to seal off the area, and launched a manhunt for the suspected attacker.

"The maniac has been found dead," Mr Darmanin wrote on Twitter.

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