A British girl killed by a gun-wielding Dutch recluse was shot in the heart with a rifle following a three-year-long dispute between neighbours after they cut down trees to make a play area, it was reported.

Solaine Thornton, 11, was killed as she played on a swing with her sister in the garden of their home in the small hamlet in Saint-Herbot, in Brittany, western France at about 10pm on Saturday evening.

The family had been enjoying the warm evening on Saturday in their garden when the Dutch neighbour opened fire and shot at them several times, the prosecutor said. 

Solaine’s sister Celeste, 8, reportedly ran screaming, ‘My sister is dead, my sister is dead’, as her parents Adrian, 52, and Rachel, 49, were also gunned down. 

The father Adrian is in critical condition after he was shot in the head while the mother Rachel was shot twice in the head and back, The Sun reported. Celeste was unharmed but in a state of shock.

The 71-year-old neighbour is said to have fired on the family through a hedge with a rifle on Saturday night. The swings are pictured on the far left

The 71-year-old neighbour is said to have fired on the family through a hedge with a rifle on Saturday night. The swings are pictured on the far left

An 11-year-old British girl has been shot dead in France while playing on a garden swing after a neighbour allegedly stormed a family barbecue and fired on the family-of-four. Forensics are pictured at the scene

An 11-year-old British girl has been shot dead in France while playing on a garden swing after a neighbour allegedly stormed a family barbecue and fired on the family-of-four. Forensics are pictured at the scene

‘Initial evidence suggests the victims’ neighbour, a 71-year-old Dutch pensioner, suddenly appeared armed with a firearm and fired several shots in the direction of the victims … before retreating to his home with his wife,’ the Quimper prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

After barricading himself in his house next door, the neighbour surrendered when a police negotiator coaxed him out of his property. He was arrested along with his wife by elite firearms officers. 

‘Tests were taken following his arrest, and he was under the influence of drugs,’ an investigating source said.

The attack followed a three-year dispute over noise and a plot of land in the hamlet of Saint-Herbot, in Brittany, according to the region’s mayor. 

The Dutchman first threatened the family with a .22 rifle a far back as 2020, according to neighbours in the hamlet.

One said: ‘That’s what the dispute three years ago was all about – police were called because he was threatening the family with his rifle. The two families were always arguing, and the rifle escalated matters, but nobody ever believed that he would use it.’

Regine Guillot, secretary of the nearest town hall in Plonevez-du-Faou, said the British family had lived in the hamlet for five years and that the Dutch neighbour was a private man.

‘There were neighbourhood issues, yes, a hedge, a field, but nothing more than that, not that we were aware of,’ Guillot told Reuters. ‘The village is in shock.’

The case has been handed to the public prosecutor in Brest given its gravity.

News footage shows forensic investigators scouring the scene with the family's belongings - including a picnic bag and a bottle of fizzy pop - lying next to a wooden bench. A yellow label with a number had been placed next to each item

News footage shows forensic investigators scouring the scene with the family’s belongings – including a picnic bag and a bottle of fizzy pop – lying 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 to confiscate it by the police or council officials.

The pensioner regularly complained about the family cutting down trees to make way for children’s play equipment, including swings.

‘He was also regularly upset about the noise the family made, even though it didn’t bother anyone else – it was mainly just kids having a nice time.’

The attacker’s wife was said to be a ‘pleasant neighbour’ who ‘said hello to people,’ but her husband was gruff and withdrawn.

On Monday morning, an investigation ‘for the murder of a child under 15, and two attempted murders’ was ongoing. Adrien is critically ill in hospital with a head wound while Rachel is also being treated. They have both undergone surgery. 

Their youngest daughter – eight-year-old Celeste – had been playing on the swing with her sister but she was able to escape unharmed.

News footage showed forensic investigators scouring the scene, with the family’s belongings – including a picnic bag and a bottle of fizzy pop – lying abandoned next to a bench. Yellow numbered labels had been placed next to each item.

It was the couple’s younger daughter Celeste who raised the alarm, neighbours said, shouting ‘my sister is dead, my sister is dead’ as she ran away from the gunfire.

The little girl was unharmed and took refuge with a neighbour but is in a state of ‘shock’ following the ordeal.

People in the village called them an ‘adorable, kind and helpful family’. 

Solenne was playing in her garden when the neighbour brandishing a gun opened fire 'several times' on Saturday night. Investigators are pictured in the garden where the shooting took place

Solenne was playing in her garden when the neighbour brandishing a gun opened fire ‘several times’ on Saturday night. Investigators are pictured in the garden where the shooting took place

Mr Thornton was well known around the hamlet and surrounding countryside for helping out with DIY tasks.

He remains ‘critical with life-threatening wounds’, while his wife was also in intensive care at the Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest, where they both underwent surgery.

Marguerite Bleuzen, Mayor of PlonEvez-du-Faou, which covers the Saint-Herbot hamlet, revealed that there had been ‘some trouble with a neighbour dispute’ between the two families since at least 2020.

‘I intervened with my deputies when we were elected,’ she said. ‘There was a problem with the land around their properties, and with noise pollution – it started from there.’

Following the official intervention three years ago, there had been ‘no emergency,’ but Ms Bleuzen was aware that arguments continued to simmer.

‘This morning, tongues are loosening,’ she said. ‘I think they all had a little trouble getting on with each other.’

Ms Bleuzen added: ‘The family was well known and liked. There is a village fete every year and they always came. It’s incomprehensible to have shot a child. No one can understand how that could have happened.’

Solenne was killed in her garden in the hamlet of Saint-Herbot, in Brittany

Solenne was killed in her garden in the hamlet of Saint-Herbot, in Brittany

All of the Thorntons were in the garden of their property – a converted saw mill – when shots were fired at around 9pm on Saturday.

A local prosecutor said Solenne and Celeste were playing on a garden swing when the gunman suddenly emerged and ‘fired several times’. Reports said he fired on them through a hedge while the parents were tending to the barbeque.

Solenne was killed while her parents were wounded. 

The gunman then fled and barricaded himself in his house, before later being 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 neighbours, and a gun was produced,’ said an investigating source. ‘Tensions clearly reached boiling point. The older girl was shot dead and her parents seriously wounded,’ he said.

‘The father suffered a head injury and is critical in hospital, while the mother is also very badly hurt. The youngest child is the only one who is unscathed, having managed to flee to another neighbour’s house.’

The Intervention Group of the National Gendarmerie tactical unit was called to the scene and a negotiator persuaded the neighbour and his wife to give themselves up before they were arrested, the prosecutor reportedly said. 

A source described there as having been a ‘brief siege’ after the shooter ‘locked himself in his home’.

‘After some negotiation, the suspect gave himself up without a struggle, and he was arrested, alongside his wife. He had retired to Saint-Herbot around six years ago.’ 

The couple's eight-year-old daughter Celeste raised the alarm, neighbours said, shouting 'my sister is dead, my sister is dead' as she ran away from the gunfire

The couple’s eight-year-old daughter Celeste raised the alarm, neighbours said, shouting ‘my sister is dead, my sister is dead’ as she ran away from the gunfire

A direct neighbour of the Thorntons told L Telegramme that he saw the whole family under the oak tree at the bottom of their garden earlier that evening

A direct neighbour of the Thorntons told L Telegramme that he saw the whole family under the oak tree at the bottom of their garden earlier that evening

The incident took place on Saturday evening in Saint-Herbot, a small village near Quimper

The incident took place on Saturday evening in Saint-Herbot, a small village near Quimper (pictured is a chapel in the village)

The girl's parents, who both work locally, were taken to La Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest  to be treated for their injuries

The girl’s parents, who both work locally, were taken to La Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest  to be treated for their injuries

The shooting took place on Saturday evening in the picturesque village of Saint-Herbot, near Quimper in the department of Finistere. 

The Thorntons had lived in the property – a converted sawmill close to the local Catholic Church – for ‘a number of years’, according to a neighbour.

A direct neighbour of the Thorntons told Le Telegramme that he saw the whole family under the oak tree at the bottom of their garden earlier that evening.

‘The two little 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 pupil at Jean Jaures College, in the town of Huelgoat.

Pupils at the school were receiving psychological care today, following her death.

Classes at the Jean-Jaurès college resumed as normal on Monday morning, with a ‘medical monitoring team’ in place.

Guylène Esnault, director of education services in the Finistere department, said: ‘This is a small area, and everyone knows each other. The children will have heard about what happened.

‘The college principal will say what is appropriate to her students, and a monitoring team including a doctor, nurses and psychiatrists is in place.’

Solenne was in Year 6 at the college, which has around 150 students.

Mael de Calan, president of Finister’s departmental council, said there was ‘Stupor and consternation after the murder of an 11-year-old schoolgirl in Plonévez-du-Faou.

‘Such a drama, between neighbours, reminds us that the rise of violence in our society must be fought unanimously.

‘I send all my condolences to the girl’s family and loved ones, and my most sincere thoughts to the teachers and students of the Huelgoat college.’

Solenne’s parents, who both work locally, were taken to La Cavale Blanche hospital in Brest to be treated for their injuries.

‘The reasons for this tragedy are not yet known. It would appear that a conflict has been opposing the two neighbours for several years over a plot of land adjoining the two properties,’ prosecutor Carine Halley said on Sunday. 

‘An investigation has been opened into the murder of a minor and three attempted murders.’ 

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was providing consular assistance to a British family following a shooting. 

DailyMail

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