A gun-wielding ‘drugged’ Dutch pensioner who allegedly killed an 11-year-old British girl as she played on a swing had threatened the family three years earlier with a rifle after they felled trees to make a play area, neighbors saying.
The 71-year-old man is said to have “shot multiple times” at the family across a hedge with a rifle on Saturday night as they enjoyed a barbecue, killing Solenne Thornton and wounding her father Adrien and mother Rachel.
After barricading himself in his house next door, the neighbor was detained along with his wife by elite firearms agents.
“He was tested after his arrest and was under the influence of drugs,” an investigative source said.
The attack, which has also left Solenne’s parents fighting for their lives, followed a three-year dispute over noise and land in the Brittany village of Saint-Herbot, according to the region’s mayor.
The Dutchman first threatened the family with a .22 rifle in 2020, according to residents of the village.
One said: ‘That’s what the dispute was about three years ago: they called the police because he was threatening the family with his rifle. The two families were always arguing, and the rifle escalated things, but no one believed that he would use it.
An 11-year-old British girl has been shot dead in France while playing on a garden swing after a neighbor allegedly broke into a family barbecue and shot the family of four. Forensics are shown at the scene.
News footage shows forensic investigators walking through the scene with family belongings, including a picnic bag and a soda bottle, next to a wooden bench. A yellow label with a number had been placed next to each item.
The weapon was a licensed hunting rifle and no effort was made by police or council officials to seize it.
The retiree regularly complained about the family cutting down trees to make way for children’s playground equipment, including swings.
“He was also regularly annoyed by the noise the family was making, even though it didn’t bother anyone else, it was mostly kids having fun.”
The attacker’s wife was said to be a ‘nice neighbor’ who ‘greeted people’, but her husband was gruff and withdrawn.
As of Monday morning, an investigation “for the murder of a minor under 15 years of age and two attempted murders” was underway. Adrien is seriously ill in hospital with a head injury, while Rachel is also receiving treatment. Both have been operated.
Their youngest daughter, eight-year-old Celeste, had been playing on the swing with her sister, but was able to escape unharmed.
News footage showed forensic investigators touring the scene, with family belongings, including a picnic bag and a soda bottle, abandoned next to a bench. Numbered yellow tags had been placed next to each item.
It was the couple’s youngest daughter, Celeste, who raised the alarm, neighbors said, yelling “my sister is dead, my sister is dead” as she ran from the gunfire.
The girl was unharmed and took refuge with a neighbor, but is in a state of “shock” after the ordeal.
The townspeople called them a ‘lovely, kind and helpful family’.
The 71-year-old neighbor is said to have shot the family through a hedge with a rifle on Saturday night. The swings are shown on the far left.
Solenne was playing in her garden when the gun-wielding neighbor opened fire ‘several times’ on Saturday night. Investigators are shown in the garden where the shooting took place.
Mr Thornton was well known in the village and surrounding countryside for helping with DIY chores.
He remains ‘critical with life-threatening injuries’, while his wife was also in intensive care at the Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest, where they both underwent surgery.
Marguerite Bleuzen, the mayor of PlonEvez-du-Faou, which covers the village of Saint-Herbot, revealed that there had been “some problems with a neighborhood dispute” between the two families since at least 2020.
“I intervened with my deputies when we were elected,” he said. “There was a problem with the land around his properties and with the noise pollution, it all started from there.”
After the official intervention three years ago, there was ‘no emergency’, but Ms Bleuzen knew that the arguments were still simmering.
“This morning, tongues are loosening,” he said. I think they all had a bit of a hard time getting along.
Ms Bleuzen added: ‘The family was well known and loved. There is a festival in the town every year and they always came. It is incomprehensible to have shot a child. No one can understand how that could have happened.
Solenne was murdered in her garden in the village of Saint-Herbot, in Brittany.
All of the Thorntons were in the yard of their property, a converted sawmill, when shots were fired around 9 p.m. Saturday.
A local prosecutor said Solenne and Celeste were playing on a garden swing when the gunman suddenly appeared and “shot multiple times.” Reports say that he fired at them through a hedge as the parents were tending to the barbecue.
Solenne was killed while her parents were injured.
The gunman then fled and barricaded himself in his home, before being later arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.
The suspect is now in custody and a murder investigation is underway.
“There was a dispute between neighbors and a weapon was produced,” an investigative source said. ‘Tensions have clearly reached boiling point. The older girl was shot dead and her parents badly injured,’ she said.
‘The father suffered a head injury and is in critical condition in hospital, while the mother is also badly injured. The youngest child is the only one who escapes unharmed, since he managed to flee to another neighbor’s house.
The Intervention Group of the National Gendarmerie Tactical Unit was called to the scene and a negotiator convinced the neighbor and his wife to turn themselves in before being detained, the prosecutor said.
A source described there was a “brief siege” after the shooter “locked himself in his house”.
“After some negotiations, the suspect turned himself in without a fight and was arrested along with his wife. He had retired to Saint-Herbot about six years ago.
Celeste, the couple’s eight-year-old daughter, raised the alarm, neighbors said, yelling “my sister is dead, my sister is dead” as she ran from the gunfire.
A direct neighbor of the Thorntons told L Telegramme that he saw the whole family under the oak tree at the bottom of their garden that same night.
The incident took place on Saturday night in Saint-Herbot, a small town near Quimper (in the photo, a chapel in the town)
The girl’s parents, who work in the town, were taken to La Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest for treatment of their injuries.
The shooting took place on Saturday night in the picturesque village of Saint-Herbot, near Quimper, in the Finistere department.
The Thorntons had lived on the property, a converted sawmill near the local Catholic church, for “several years,” according to a neighbor.
A direct neighbor of the Thorntons told Le Telegramme that he saw the whole family under the oak tree at the bottom of their garden that same night.
“The two girls were playing near the games and on the swing, the parents were sitting on their usual bench and having a barbecue,” he said.
Solenne was a student at the Jean Jaures College, in the town of Huelgoat.
The students of the school were receiving psychological attention today, after his death.
Classes at the Jean-Jaurès college resumed as normal on Monday morning, with a “medical follow-up team” on site.
Guylène Esnault, director of educational services in the Finisterre department, said: ‘This is a small area and everyone knows each other. The children will have found out what happened.
“The director of the university will say what is appropriate for his students, and a follow-up team has been established that includes a doctor, nurses and psychiatrists.”
Solenne was in year 6 at the university, which has around 150 students.
Mael de Calan, president of the Finister departmental council, said there was ‘shock and dismay following the murder of an 11-year-old schoolgirl in Plonévez-du-Faou.
‘Such a drama, between neighbors, reminds us that the increase in violence in our society must be combated unanimously.
“I send all my condolences to the family and loved ones of the girl, and my most sincere thoughts to the teachers and students of the Huelgoat school.”
Solenne’s parents, who work in the town, were taken to La Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest for treatment of their injuries.
‘The reasons for this tragedy are not yet known. It appears that a dispute has been pitting the two neighbors for several years over land adjoining the two properties,” prosecutor Carine Halley said Sunday.
An investigation has been opened for the murder of a minor and three attempted murders.
The UK Foreign Office said it was providing assistance to a British family following a shooting in France.
I am Rakesh Sharma, I associated with Elite News as an Editor, since 2021. I take care of all the news operations like content, budget, hiring and policy making.