Children, parents and grandparents joined a few thousand well-wishers Sunday in a park in the French Alps town of Annecy to show solidarity and support for the victims of a playground stabbing attack that left four young children and two adults hospitalized with serious wounds.
The children represent “the poetry of life,” Annecy Mayor Francois Astorg told the crowd, calling on Annecy residents to “come together to build, instead of to hate.”
Astorg had called for a “citizens’ gathering” in the lakeside park where a man with a knife raced around stabbing people Thursday. City officials reopened the playground hours after the attack in an attempt to show the area was again safe.
People have heaped flowers, stuffed toys and messages of support on the playground’s padded surface in the days since. A pink heart-shaped balloon tied to a bench read, “For the children – LOVE.”
The children targeted were a 22-month-old Dutch girl, a 3-year-old British girl, and two 2-year-old French cousins, a boy and a girl. They received grave injuries and remain hospitalized, but their conditions improved to the point where their lives no longer were in danger, the regional prosecutor said Saturday.
One of the wounded adults, a Portuguese man who was knifed while trying to stop the attacker from fleeing, and then shot by police as they detained the suspect — also remains hospitalized.
Multiple bystanders sought to deter the assailant, including a French Catholic pilgrim named Henri who repeatedly swung at the attacker with his backpack, and has been dubbed “the hero with the backpack.″
The suspect, a 31-year-old Syrian refugee with permanent Swedish residency, was handed preliminary charges Saturday of attempted murder and armed resistance. Witnesses told investigators that the suspect mentioned his own 3-year-old daughter, his wife and Jesus Christ during the attack, regional prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis said.
Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to suspect wrongdoing but are allowing more time for investigation before deciding whether to send a suspect to trial.
The stabbing suspect refused to talk to investigators, and was examined by a psychiatrist and other doctors who deemed him fit to face charges, the prosecutor said. She said that the motive remained unclear, but it didn’t appear to be terrorism-related.
The suspect remains in custody pending further investigation.
At Sunday’s gathering, families described wanting to reclaim the site, a peaceful, shaded playground overlooking the Alpine lake. A Mexican artist duo unveiled a fresco to the victims.
Local authorities are providing psychological support to the victims and their families, as well as to traumatized witnesses. Among those in the park at the time was a group of high school students on an end-of-year field trip, some of whom reportedly helped call police and to protect younger children from the attacker.
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