Woman, four children found dead in apartment as police arrest husband

French police who forced their way into an apartment on Christmas Day found the bodies of a woman, a baby and three other children aged up to 10, the public prosecutor said.

The mother and her two elder children, both girls, had been stabbed multiple times; the younger children, both boys, had no knife wounds but appeared to have been suffocated or drowned.

A man, reported by local media to be the woman’s husband and father of the children, who was seen on CCTV leaving the apartment at Meaux in the Île-de-France region east of Paris, is in police custody, the prosecutor added on Tuesday.

A formal investigation has been opened on two charges: the “deliberate killing” of minors below the age of 15 years; and the “deliberate killing” of a partner, charges that both carry life prison sentences on conviction.

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At a press conference, the public prosecutor Jean-Baptiste Bladier said police found a scene of “very great violence”, with blood everywhere when they broke into the flat on Monday evening after being alerted by a neighbour who was a close friend of the mother.

The neighbour said she had become concerned when she was unable to contact the women, aged 35 and originally from Haiti, on Sunday evening. She called police after turning up to check if they were fine and finding the window shutters closed and seeing blood on and around the front door.

Bladier, who said he visited the flat shortly after police made the discovery, and that was “full of the effects of ordinary family life”. He said the mother and two daughters had suffered “a very great number of knife wounds … to the front and back of their bodies as well as to their limbs”.

None of the victims have been named and Bladier said it would be illegal to publish anything that could identify the children, who were aged 10, seven, four and nine months.

He said medical documents at the flat suggested the suspect, aged 33, a qualified plumber of French nationality, suffered from depression and psychological problems. In November 2019 he had been arrested and questioned after allegedly stabbing the woman in the shoulder six weeks before the birth of their third child. She declined to press charges and refused help from victim support organisations, and the case was dropped.

Bladier said the woman told police in 2019 she and her partner had met at school as teenagers and had been together for 14 years. They married in October this year, he said.

The killings come after interior ministry figures showing that on average one woman in France is murdered by her partner or former partner every three days.

According to the annual report by France’s interior ministry, released in September, 118 femicide victims were recorded in among a total of 244,300 victims of domestic violence in 2022, mostly women, an increase of 15% compared with 2021. The highest number of women killed by current or former partners was in 2019, with 146 victims.

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