The mother of a young British girl shot dead in France screamed for her two daughters to ‘Run! Go!’ as a Dutch gunman opened fire on the family on Saturday, it has emerged.
Neighbour Dirk Raats, 71, has been formally charged with 11-year-old Solaine Thornton’s murder and the attempted murder of her parents Adrian and Rachael, as the family enjoyed a barbecue in Saint-Herbot near Quimper, Brittany, on Saturday.
Adrian and Rachael have both undergone surgery since the attack, with their family revealing today that the mother’s survival was ‘touch and go’ after bullets were removed from her back and neck, with one narrowly missing an artery.
Marguerite Bleuzen – the mayor of Plonevez-du-Faou, the region that covers the hamlet – said yesterday that Rachael pleaded with her two daughters, Solaine and her eight-year-old sister Celeste, to flee to safety. Celeste was able to escape to the home of a local family friend, but Solaine tragically died at the scene.
The new details of how the tragic events unfolded emerged as it was reported that the British couple had just days ago moved their children’s play area to ‘within yards’ of the suspect’s garden. Their own land backs on to his.
The Dutch national and the family had been in a lengthy dispute over their adjoining plots. Rachael told friends the neighbour had threatened them with a gun several years ago after they cut a hedge down, claiming it exposed his home to public view.
The mother of 11-year-old Solaine Thornton (pictured) – who was shot dead in France on Saturday – screamed for her two daughter to ‘Run! Go!’ as the Dutch gunman opened fire on the family in France, according to reports
Neighbour Dirk Raats, 71, has been formally charged with 11-year-old Solaine Thornton’s murder and the attempted murder of her parents Adrian and Rachael
The Dutch national and the family had been in a lengthy dispute over their adjoining land. Rachael Thornton told friends a neighbour had threatened them with a gun several years ago after they cut a hedge down, claiming it exposed his home to public view
According to The Daily Telegraph, neighbours in the hamlet have said the family moving the children’s play area could have been the ‘provocation’ for the attack.
One neighbour, 65-year-old retired teacher Jean Larher, told the newspaper: ‘The noise was constant and to be honest sometimes infernal.’
The British family were often clearing land, cutting wood and playing music, neighbours said. Their dogs would also bark, The Telegraph reports, with neighbours suggesting to the publication this could have driven those nearby to ‘distraction’.
Mr Larher said he did not understand why the family had moved the children’s play area from one side of the garden to another in the days before the attack.
‘Before, it was the other side next to their house. On Saturday, the girls were playing at a tree just yards from where the neighbours were sitting,’ he told the newspaper, adding that the father had recently cut the hedge so you could see through it.
‘It’s their land, but why did Adrian put his hand in the lion’s cage? In his position, I would have left the playground on the other side of the garden,’ he added.
It is understood that Rachael had told the Larhers that Raats had one threatened them with a gun several years ago over a clearing in the garden, which was visible from the Dutchman’s property.
Reclusive Raats was barely seen in the tiny country village of Saint Herbot where he had lived with his Belgian wife Marlene Van Hoof
Raats and van Hoof, pictured on Tuesday, moved to France in 2017 but refused to learn French or take part in village life
Marie-Celine Le Borgne, another neighbour, told The Times that Raats and his Belgian wife Marlene Van Hoof, 70, had threatened the Thorntons with guns and even ‘made the sign “couic” [the slitting throat gesture]’.
Borgne claimed van Hoof had complained about privacy to her, saying: ‘We came to live in Saint-Herbot, it was to be quiet. And now, from the road, we can be seen. We can’t even eat in the garden in the summer.’
Mayor Bleuzen said: ‘The problem is that no one reported it so no one intervened. If there had been this report, the gendarmes would have confiscated his weapon. And this tragedy would not have happened.’
Rachael’s mother, Christine Rhodes, told The Telegraph that her daughter has had a ‘big operation’ since the shooting. ‘She had a bullet in her neck, which was next to an artery and one in her back near her lung.’
She said it was ‘touch and go’ but that she has pulled through. Her husband Adrian remains in a critical condition and in intensive care.
Raats is accused of being under the influence of drink and drugs when he fired a volley of shots at the family as they enjoyed an evening barbecue.
Solaine received a catastrophic bullet wound to the heart while her father, who is now in a coma, was shot in the head and her mother in the back and neck.
Solaine had been enjoying the warm evening in the garden of their family home in the small hamlet in Saint-Herbot, Brittany, when the Dutch neighbour shot at them several times
Neighbours have spoken of their shock at the horrific crime.
One told MailOnline: ‘I have seen him but never spoken to him. No one has. He didn’t speak French and he rarely came out of his house.’
Van Hoof was arrested with Raats following the shooting on Saturday night after armed police surrounded their property.
She was charged with concealing Raats’ two weapons – a hunting rifle and a handgun. Raats had bought the arms illegally and did not hold a licence for either, it has emerged. He barricaded himself in their home after the shooting.
Van Hoof was released from custody last night and was back at her country home today. She declined to speak when approached.
After the gunman opened fire, Celeste – who had been playing on a swingset with Solaine – ran some 300 meters across her garden and up a lane in the village to the house of Pierre Leroy.
‘Celeste had dodged a bullet and ran for her life up here saying, “They’ve killed my sister, and the man shot my dad.”
‘We went straight over there and the girl was dead and the mother was cradling her in her arms and screaming,’ the Thornton’s family friend told The Daily Telegraph.
‘Adrian was shouting as well, injured but conscious, but the mother, who is now stable but being operated on, understood it was too later for her daughter.
‘There were no words, just screams,’ Mr Leroy said.
The swings are seen in the family’s garden where the 11-year-old girl was killed
Police forensics work at the crime scene on Monday. A trampoline is seen near a tree, tire swing and a bench, where items for a picnic still sit
The Intervention Group of the National Gendarmerie tactical unit was called and a negotiator persuaded the couple to give themselves up
He told the newspaper that his wife accompanied the young girl to hospital and remained with her on Monday afternoon.
The family friend and another local, an 83-year-old retired soldier, told the publication they were both convinced the Dutchman wanted to kill the entire family.
But prosecutors suggested on Monday that the little girl was ‘not the target’ of the shooting.
Speaking at a press conference, public prosecutor Camille Miansoni said: ‘It would seem that he was not aiming at the little girl.’