The killing of 11-year-old Solaine Thornton as she played outside her home in France could have been avoided, the local mayor has said, had violent threats by the suspected shooter over her family’s garden improvements been reported.
Dirk Raats, 71, has been formally charged with the little girl’s murder and the attempted murder of her parents Adrian and Rachael Thornton as the family enjoyed a barbecue in Saint-Herbot near Quimper, Brittany, on Saturday night.
Rachael begged her daughters to flee, screaming ‘Run, girls, run!’ as the shooter opened fire on the family. While her eight-year-old, Celeste, escaped unharmed and raised the alarm, Solaine tragically died ‘cradled in her mother’s arms’.
Neighbours have said that Raats, a Dutch national, had threatened the English family with guns before and that he and his wife had made the sign ‘couic’, or slitting of the throat, at them.
Marguerite Bleuzen, the mayor of Plonévez-du-Faou, 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.’
Dirk Raats, 71, has been formally charged with the little girl’s murder and the attempted murder of her parents Adrian and Rachael Thornton
Solaine Thornton, 11, was shot and killed as she played on a swing with her sister in the garden of their family home at about 10pm on Saturday
Police forensics at the crime scene after 11-year-old Solaine Thornton was shot dead while playing on a swing in her garden in the French village of Saint-Herbot
Rachael told friends a neighbour had threatened them with a gun several years ago after they cut a hedge down near his property, claiming it exposed his home to public view.
Raats and his Belgian wife, Marlene van Hoof, 70, moved to France in 2017 but refused to learn French or take part in village life.
Neighbour Marie-Céline Le Borgne claimed van Hoof had complained to her: ‘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.’
Judith Jones, 85, a retired teacher from North Yorks who has lived in the hamlet for 13 years, told The Times that Raats had been in a long-running feud with the family as they fought to clean up their overgrown garden.
Raats and his Belgian wife, Marlene van Hoof (pictured on Tuesday), 70, moved to France in 2017 but refused to learn French or take part in village life
‘A few years ago they wanted to chop down an oak tree. Some of the branches overhung his garden. He went to the authorities and tried to stop them, but they said it was OK to do. After they [the Thorntons] chopped down the tree he took them to court, suing them for damages, but they won.’
The public prosecutor claimed has that works by the family on a hedge that divided the two properties ‘exasperated the suspect who later took a loaded .22 calibre rifle and fired three or four shots, hitting three victims.’
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 head.
Both parents have undergone surgery.
As her eight-year-old sister Celeste ran to safety, mum Rachael cried: ‘Run girls, run!’
Today neighbours told of their shocked 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.’
His wife Marlene Van Hoof was arrested with him following the shooting on Saturday night after armed police surrounded the 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.”
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
‘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.
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.’