Less than two weeks ago, the most horrendous horrific crime took place right on our doorstep: three Brits were found shot dead in their car in a secluded beauty-spot, and a French cyclist found just nearby. Whole villages were in shock, and no-one I spoke to could quite believe that it could happen here, in such a quiet beautiful place, in the middle of nowhere.
Alpine Papa had been in Chevaline on the very morning of the murders, and called me as the story was breaking in the afternoon, with police and firemen screaming past his office on the way to the crime scene.
The story got worse and worse as the day wore on: it was like a nightmare that just kept on going, from which no-one could wake up. It really hit closer to home a short while later when we discovered the car (and the occupants) were British. Then it transpired that a child, aged about seven, had been shot and badly beaten but had miraculously been found alive near the car. Each new fact that emerged seemed to resonate and hit me so hard – the cyclist (who just seemed to have been passing by at precisely the wrong moment) was a local man, only the same age as Alpine Papa, and on paternity leave. My heart went out to his wife, a new mother for the third time, waiting for him to come back from an uneventful day’s cycling, as I often do with Alpine Papa. I can’t even begin to imagine her grief.
Thinking it couldn’t get much worse, I was heart-broken to awaken the next morning to reports on the radio that a four-year-old girl had been found – alive! – in the car, hiding under her mother’s legs, paralysed with fear. She had been there for over eight hours when the police finally found her at midnight: apparently she hadn’t moved a muscle the whole time, even when the police where there, because “elle ne pouvait pas faire la différence entre les gentils et les méchants” – she couldn’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad. That news really punched me in the gut. I sat down to breakfast with Alpine Boy, nearly the same age as that poor little girl, and gave him a big hug as the news poured over us from the kitchen radio. Morbid as it seems, I couldn’t help but imagine him in such a horrific situation – afraid, unable to move, instinctively seeking refuge behind his mother, the place where all children feel safest. “There but for the grace of God go I…”
I spent the next day glued to the radio, TV, news websites, Twitter, Facebook… obsessively trying to get as much info as possible. I had planned to go for one of my frequent secluded forest walks whilst Alpine Boy was at school, but was too nervous to be doing any of that. I had visions of some crazed gunman wandering the local woods on the hunt for English cars and I wasn’t going to make myself a target. The talk of the village, and presumably of all villages around us, was only of this awful, incomprehensible news. At the school gates, over garden fences, walking the dog – people wanted to talk about it, to feel human contact I guess, to remind themselves how short and precious life can be, and to somehow try to understand what had happened. No-one could believe that such a tragic and evil thing could take place so close to home, and for some reason it was even harder to believe given the picturesque surroundings. Personally, there was no way I could have even begun to believe, when I moved my children away from the craziness that is London, that tragedies such as this appear to know no geographical boundaries.
As the weeks wear on now, inevitably the media furor is dying down. The police seemingly have no leads, although endless hypotheses being bandied around in the press and in the village. Was it a car-jacking gone wrong? Or a contract killing? A family dispute? Or did the family unknowingly hit upon a drugs deal? We are being ‘reassured’ that the investigations are meticulously continuing, though I think everyone is wondering if the killers will ever be caught….
We also find that, as the horror of the news starts to fade, so does the fear that it could happen again, to us and our children. We school-run mummies are talking about other things, and are no longer dwelling on the heart-stopping moment we all felt when we learned the news about the four-year-old girl found hiding in the car. I can only imagine the trauma she and her sister must be going through, and desperately hope that time will help, if not heal them. The scars felt by the region, although deep, are mere scratches in comparison. Life in the middle of nowhere seems to continue as before, at its usual snail’s pace, albeit with a fervent hope that nothing like this will ever happen again.