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French gunman holding hostages surrenders

A former teacher armed with a handgun surrendered hours after holding nearly two dozen hostages Thursday, most of them students, in a high school classroom, police said.
Police guard entrance of Colbert de Torcy highschool where jobless teacher took hostages in Sable-sur-Sarthe
Police guard the entrance of a high school, where a former teacher took hostages in Sable-sur-Sarthe, France, on Thursday.Daniel Joubert / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former teacher armed with a handgun and reportedly suffering from depression held 23 hostages — most students — for several hours Thursday in a high school classroom before surrendering calmly, police said.

The 33-year-old man, who was unemployed and looking for work, turned himself in after hours of negotiations as he held the hostages captive throughout the afternoon and early evening, police and local officials said. Nobody was injured in the standoff.

A crack intervention squad brought in by helicopter handled the critical second phase of negotiations that “ended in freedom for the entire group without violence,” Jean-Luc Prigent, a top aide in the local administration told France-Info radio.

The atmosphere in the classroom was calm, with students sending cell phone text messages and calling their families, Stephane Bouillon, top official for the Sarthe region, told The Associated Press.

A school receptionist, Bernadette Mercier, told AP earlier that the man had promised not to harm the students, ages 16 to 18, who were held in an upper-floor study hall.

Teacher said to be depressed
Mercier said the former teacher had been “very, very depressed” when he was employed by the school two years ago because of personal problems and now was apparently seeking work.

Authorities had initially given conflicting accounts of how many hostages were taken.

Police took up positions around the school, and elite forces headed there via helicopter from a military airport west of Paris, police said. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, on a visit to Guadeloupe, said he was following the situation closely.

Mercier said the former teacher had found no work and was known to have been very depressed. School officials allowed him to enter because they knew him, she said.

“He promised a teacher’s assistant that he would do no harm to the students,” Mercier said by telephone, adding that he appeared calm.

'He seemed totally normal'
The receptionist, who was not in the same building as the hostages, said the incident began about 2:30 p.m.

“We knew him, so we simply let him in,” she said. “He seemed totally normal.”

Mercier, who did not identify the gunman, said the school has about 1,500 students.

She said that police were “everywhere,” including on all floors and at all windows of a parallel building.

Prosecutor Jean Elek informed families of students held hostage of the situation, Le Mans court officials said. A crisis center for parents was set up on the school grounds.

Police cordoned off the area in Sable-sur-Sarthe, outside Le Mans. The city famed for its 24-hour annual car race is about 145 miles southwest of Paris, and Sable-sur-Sarthe is about 30 miles from Le Mans.