Annecy shootings: On a steep forest road, few signs of the horror that was

The car park where the shooting took place is at sharp odds with the extreme violence that happened here this week


A handful of blood-stained leaves. Fragments of shattered car window glass. A deep furrow in a woodland embankment, as if a car had been parked carelessly. Or as if the driver had reversed into the bank in panic and terror.

All was startlingly beautiful, and almost normal, yesterday at the "car park" high in the French Alps where four people were clinically slaughtered on Wednesday afternoon. But the term "car park" is deeply misleading. The massacre happened in a mere widening of the road – a lay-by hewn from the hillside with space for at most five cars. A forestry reserve sign warns of "wild animals" and "hunters".

A stream gurgles beside a pot-holed road which winds steeply up from Chevaline, the nearest village. "Chevaline" means horse butcher.

From the village's handful of chalet farmhouses you look down past peacefully grazing brown and white Alpine cattle to the turquoise waters of Lake Annecy.

This is an especially magical corner of one of the most spectacularly beautiful and peaceful places in Europe. What hunters, what butchers, what wild animals climbed the twisting mountain road for two miles beyond Chevaline to this spot just before 4pm on Wednesday? Did they lie in ambush for their prey? Or did they track them up the "route forestière de la Combe d'Ire"?

Until yesterday afternoon, the "crime scene" was closed to press and public. To visit the place where four people were executed with such cold brutality is chilling. It deepens the understanding of what happened but it also compounds the mystery.

Could a random murder, a car hijacking gone wrong, have happened at such a remote spot? How could a targeted attack on a British-Iraqi family, on a caravan holiday in the valley below, have occurred here?

You wind for two miles up a deeply pitted road. Broad-leaved and ever-green forests cluster on each side. You cross and re-cross a brightly gushing stream on rough bridges.

The misty slopes of the massif of the Montagne de Charbon tower above the treeline. This is an Alpine forest from a guide-book or a fairy story. Heidi could be living around the next corner.

Finally, after walking the last half mile at the insistence of the gendarmerie, you discover that the murders did not happen in a car park, as the world has been led to believe. The crime scene is in fact a widened area of road, some 50ft by 10ft, carved into the forest side. A few feet away stands a red-and-white barrier forbidding the public to drive further.

Another question comes to mind. Why did the Al-Hilli family come to this wild place, with two small children, wearing smart "town" clothes?

The Route forèstiere de la Combe d'Iré is a favourite resort for outdoor pursuits, for hikers and cyclists. Beyond the red and white sign, the track peters out into rough mountain tracks.

Little remained at the scene yesterday to bear witness to the slaughter. Dark bloodstains were visible on leaves and twigs littering the lay-by. Larger bloodstains had been covered with soil. There were fragments of car window glass, from the windows shattered by the bullets which had been fired at point-blank range at the victims.

There was also a clear indentation made by the Al-Hillis' car in the embankment. It looked as if the estate car had reversed so hard into to the forest side that the rear had climbed a couple of feet up the steep slope. There was also a gash in the car park, roughly filled with pebbles by the gendarmerie.

This fitted the aerial pictures of the BMW published yesterday. The back of the car is seen hard against the embankment, with one of its rear wheels sunk deeply into the ground. A poor piece of parking? Or a desperate attempt to turn the car and flee in terror? A senior gendarmerie officer said yesterday that the marks in the car park were an "important part of the investigation". He added: "The marks have been studied carefully. We can all speculate. I cannot say any more."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living