Headmaster awarded Légion d’Honneur after school shooting

Hervé Pizzinat intervened when 16-year-old student attacked fellow pupils in Grasse

6 April 2017
The Légion d’Honneur is France's highest civil or military award
By Justin Postlethwaite

The Grasse headmaster who bravely intervened when a heavily armed student attacked pupils on March 16, has been made a Knight of the Légion d’Honneur.

Hervé Pizzinat, a teacher with 34 years’ service, rushed towards 16-year-old Kylian Barbey, who was said to have been armed with a rifle, two handguns and two grenades, to ‘reason with him’, said authorities.

Prosecutor Fabienne Atzori said the teenager had a list of 12 fellow students with whom he had ‘a bad relationship’, and had already wounded four when the headmaster stepped in.

Mr Pizzinat, who received a 22-gauge handgun wound, received his honour today from Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.

His courage was recognised by President Hollande and Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. Local politicians also praised his bravery with Alpes-Maritimes council president Eric Ciotti tweeting "Congratulations to Hervé Pizzinat, named Knight of the Légion d’Honneur for his courage” and Provence-Alpes Côte-d’Azur president Christian Estrosi calling him “heroic in approaching the student in order to try to reason and then impose himself physically”.

Mr Estrosi added: "Our nation is hammering home the idea that that the school is a sanctuary of the Republic dedicated to knowledge, that violence has no place."

The student has been charged with attempted murder and placed in a juvenile detention centre in Grasse, along with an alleged accomplice.

The teenager’s parents had previously expressed concern about his attraction to weapons and violent video games, however a psychiatrist said he was "quite normal and there was no need to worry", his lawyer told journalists.

Since the incident, the school has imposed extra security measures, including bag checks and a police patrol outside the building.

However, Mr Estrosi, the former mayor of Nice but still in charge of its security, wants schools to go further. This week he said he wants all 164 schools in the Nice area to have an armed police officer in time for the autumn ‘rentrée’ – although Ms Vallaud-Belkacem has refused to authorise such a move.

"The constitution authorises us to put an armed policeman in every school, with an office, who can monitor who comes in and out, to set up lists and monitor movements that might appear suspicious. We know that schools are a major target of Daech (Islamic State)," he said.

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Since last year’s Bastille Day terror attack in Nice the mairie has set up a CCTV surveillance room to supervise schools, along with intruder alarms, alert buttons and access badges.

Mr Estrosi wants to place cameras inside schools but this is prohibited by law.

"All we have to do is hope that a new government, more attentive to the safety of our schoolchildren, will allow us to do so for the next school year," he added.

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