Paris gunman offered to pay for holiday: Teacher in siege tells of plan to give children share of ransom

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The Independent Online
THE MAN who took 21 nursery schoolchildren hostage in a Paris suburb last week offered part of his ransom to pay for holidays for the children and their teacher to compensate, the teacher said in an account published yesterday.

Laurence Dreyfus, the 30-year-old teacher who became the toast of France after she looked after the children for 46 hours until police commandos shot dead the hostage-taker on Saturday, told the weekly Paris Match that the man became hesitant on Friday evening even though he had about half of the 100m-franc (pounds 12m) ransom he had demanded. With a getaway car outside, Eric Schmitt, 42, a former small businessman, was negotiating to take hostages with him when he offered to prepare 'envelopes with enough money to pay for a week's holiday for all of you', Mrs Dreyfus said.

'Suddenly, he started to question his strategy for leaving.' Mrs Dreyfus said she had understood then that Schmitt, driven to despair by unemployment and debts, had no intention of fleeing.

'What are you waiting for to leave,' she had asked, 'now that you have everything you want? You have the money, the car, everything] In fact, the problem is that you're afraid of going out.' At this, Schmitt told Mrs Dreyfus to be quiet, adding: 'We're not going to quarrel now, Laurence.'

By the end of the drama at 7.35am on Saturday, six children, all girls aged between three and four, were left in the class. The others were released on the first day. Policemen killed Schmitt with three shots to the head after he had dozed off in the corner of the class. The police said he awoke as they entered and reached for a detonator to explode dynamite strapped to his body.

In an introduction to the interview, Mrs Dreyfus and her husband Laurent, who is on the staff of Paris Match, said they were unsettled by the fame that the hostage-taking had brought them. 'Who can decently exhibit himself when the death of a man, as dangerous as he might have been (and he was]), reveals more the failings of a sick mind and its solitude than a natural evil?' they wrote.

Mrs Dreyfus said her initial reaction had been 'fear, only fear' when Schmitt entered her class. Contrary to reports at the time, Mrs Dreyfus said she had not tried to turn the incident into a game. 'It was out of the question. You cannot make children, even little children, believe that a hooded man armed with a pistol is a partner in a game. I tried to distract their attention by playing with them myself, which is very different.'

Some of the children began to show signs of tension, she said, particularly when their lunch was brought. Some refused to eat. She said she selected children to leave as the day progressed, choosing the most disturbed. Of Schmitt, she concluded: 'For me, he was a human being and remains one, even if I never saw his face.'