A depressed, unemployed teacher held 20 pupils and two adults hostage with a fake gun for five hours near Le Mans in western France yesterday before surrendering to police.
The man, a former, temporary teacher at the lycée at Sablé-sur-Sarthe, appeared to be armed with a hand gun. Two elite squads of gendarmes were mobilised but the man surrendered without harming his hostages last night.
Police then discovered that the gun was a fake.
The hostage-taker originally asked to be allowed to speak to the mayor of the town, François Fillon, a nationally known politician and former education minister. M. Fillon was away on a visit to London but flew back to France last night.
Earlier, the gunman had allowed his young hostages to contact their families by mobile phone and by text messages.
He walked into the school grounds at 3pm, put a "gun" to the head of a female teaching assistant and barricaded himself into a study room with the pupils.
The man - who was not immediately named - had apparently taught "industrial maintenance" on a temporary contract and left two years ago.