PARIS (AP) – Children, parents and grandparents joined a few thousand well-wishers on Sunday in a park in the city of Annecy in the French Alps to show their solidarity and support for the victims of a knife attack in an area game that left four young children and two adults hospitalized with serious injuries,
The children represent “the poetry of life”, Annecy Mayor Francois Astorg told the crowd, calling on the people of Annecy to “come together to build, instead of hating”.
Astorg had called for a “citizens rally” at the lakeside park where a man with a knife ran around stabbing people on Thursday. City officials reopened the playground hours after the attack in an attempt to show the area was safe again.
Since then, people have piled flowers, stuffed toys and messages of support on the padded surface of the playground. A pink heart-shaped balloon tied to a bench read: “For the children – LOVE”.
The children targeted were a 22-month-old Dutch girl, a 3-year-old British girl and two 2-year-old French cousins, a boy and a girl. They were seriously injured and remain hospitalized, but their condition has improved to the point that their lives were no longer in danger, the regional prosecutor said on Saturday.
One of the injured adults, a Portuguese man who was stabbed as he tried to stop the attacker from fleeing and then shot dead by police as they detained the suspect, also remains hospitalized.
Several bystanders sought to deter the attacker, including a French Catholic pilgrim named Henri who repeatedly hit the attacker with his backpack and was dubbed “the hero with the backpack”.
The suspect, a 31-year-old Syrian refugee residing in Sweden on a permanent basis, was charged on Saturday with attempted murder and armed resistance. Witnesses told investigators the suspect mentioned his own 3-year-old daughter, his wife, and Jesus Christ during the attack, regional prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis said.
Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have good reason to suspect wrongdoing, but allow more time to investigate before deciding whether to bring a suspect to justice.
The suspect refused to speak to investigators and was examined by a psychiatrist and other doctors who deemed him fit to face the charges, the prosecutor said. She said the motive remained unclear, but did not appear to be related to terrorism.
The suspect remains in custody pending further investigation.
At Sunday’s gathering, families described wanting to reclaim the site, a peaceful, shaded playground overlooking the Alpine lake. A duo of Mexican artists unveiled a fresco to the victims.
Local authorities provide psychological support to victims and their families, as well as to traumatized witnesses. Among those in the park at the time was a group of high school students on a year-end field trip, some of whom were said to have helped call the police and protect young children from the attacker.