France outraged by death of Jeanne-Marie

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The Independent Online

France has been horrified by the barbaric killing of an 11-year-old girl, who was run over by a drunk, unlicensed driver and then apparently dumped, seriously injured but still alive, in a lake or pond.

Searches are continuing for the body of Jeanne-Marie Kegelin, who disappeared from near her home in the village of Rhinau, near Strasbourg, in Alsace last Friday. Initially, police feared that she might have been abducted but they now believe that she was the victim of an inhuman attempt to cover up a road accident.

Six members of a marginal family in a neighbouring village have been arrested and several of them have confessed that the girl was brought, badly hurt but still alive, to their home soon after the accident.

Based on their testimony, investigators believe that a member of the family, Georges Remetter, 34, ran over the girl, while drunk and driving without a licence. He and his 16-year-old brother, Balthazar, bundled the injured girl into the boot of the car. She was later dumped - still alive - at a place unknown. Police frogmen have been searching local lakes, ponds and the river Rhine.

Georges Remetter has refused to admit that he ran over the girl and has refused to help police with their searches. His brother, Balthazar, and four other members of the family of 11 - a mother and 10 children - had admitted that the girl had been brought back to their home at Artolsheim, 12 miles from the accident. Georges Remetter has been placed under formal investigation for kidnapping a minor and causing her death, leaving the scene of an accident and causing bodily harm. Once Jeanne-Marie's body is found, he faces a possible charge of murder.

His brother, Balthazar, has also been placed under investigation for kidnapping a minor and causing her death. The four other family members, two men and two women, have been formally accused of covering up a crime and failing to assist a person in danger.

The chief public prosecutor for the Strasbourg area, Jacques Louvel, said: "It seems that the child was loaded into the car, brought back to the family home and then abandoned in circumstances which remain unclear."

"According to members of the family, she was still alive when she was brought back to the house ... afterwards, she was left in circumstances which can only have led to her death."

The Remetters are a formerly itinerant family, who settled in Artolsheim 10 years ago. Neighbours said that there were 11 children, aged between 40 and 15, living with their mother, aged 60. They said the family had a reputation for violence and dishonesty, which had worsened since the death of the father a few years ago.

"The kids have always played bare-foot in the street, without anyone watching over them," said one neighbour. "The older ones are in and out of prison for theft or drunk driving. One of the brothers was recently killed in a road accident .... People always walk past their house as quickly as they can."

Jeanne-Marie, one of eight children, was last seen playing on her bicycle near her home. Originally, her family and police believed that she might have been the victim of a sexually-motivated abduction. Tip-offs then led the gendarmerie to the Remetters' home.

Investigators said that Balthazar Remetter told them that he had been travelling in a German-registered car with his brother when they struck the little girl, who was on foot.