Suicide in Parisian School Raises Questions over Security

Minister of Education Vincent Peillon faces questions over school safety. Photo: Flickr.com/jyc1

Minister of Education Vincent Peillon will face questions over school safety. Photo: Flickr.com/jyc1

On May 16, a 50-year-old man killed himself with a gun in the hall of a pre-school in the 7th arrondissement of Paris in front of several children. Sources indicate that he had been kept from entering by several adults before apparently panicking and shooting himself in the head. Vincent Peillon, Minister of Education, returned  from Brussels to deal with the fallout from the event.

According to Peillon, who referred to the victim as a “lunatic,” the man was violent with the two women working in the school who tried to stop him from entering. He was loosely linked to the school, but details are still unclear. The man was apparently going through a difficult divorce and was known by the police for violence against his wife and children.

School shootings are quite rare in France, so the event quickly became a major talking point, with other major figures coming to the school immediately. Bernard Boucault, mayor of the arrondissement, Bertrand Delanoë, mayor of Paris, his first assistant Anne Hidalgo, and candidate to his succession Rachida Dati, a member of the UMP who had intended to oppose Hidalgo in the 2014 campaign, were all present.

Marie Bétemps answered to  questions from La Jeune Politique after the events. According to her, safety at this school is limited to the “bare minimum” since “no one verifies the identity of those who come pick the children up.” She said she “realized there was a problem the first time (she) went to pick up the children for whom (she) is responsible.” She added, “no one asked me who I was, and when I introduced myself at the reception, no one seemed to find it necessary.” She highlighted the difference with other schools, were she needed an authorization and was asked to prove her identity. When she asked why there were no controls, she was told, “there were too many people.”

The rarity of such events might have been the reason why the media was widely criticized for its coverage. Indeed, many were shocked when journalists interviewed some of the children to record their thoughts on the event. As a result, Peillon declared, “it is not a good thing that children become media objects. Some decency is needed and one must not exploit them.” According to him, it is a “major problem,” especially because their faces were not hidden, which requires regulations from the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel), the French media watchdog.

Bétemps believes that Peillon “was right to underline the issue and put an end to the use of children in the media.” She thinks it was “the responsibility of the persons who are in charge not to amplify this media hype.” She also believes that part of the shock the children felt was due to “what they see every day in the media.” As she highlighted, “many of them thought immediately about a terrorist attack.” As a result, “they already have fears which are not connected to events they actually went through”.

Peillon responded to suggestions that security could be improved in schools by denying that devices such as metal detectors are good solutions, noting also that safety measures had been employed in that school. He then referred to “the American” who, according to him, would be now questioning the use of detectors because they “tend to create more violence.” The minister also highlighted his commitment to making schools a better place to be in general, praising the reforms he is currently trying to implement.

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