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Shock and tributes after British girl, 11, shot dead in French hamlet

The girl's father was also shot and is fighting for his life in hospital

A house in the hamlet of Saint Herbot, where the incident took place on Saturday evening Pic: GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

An 11-year-old British girl has died and her parents seriously injured in a shooting in a hamlet in Brittany on Saturday (June 10) night. 

The incident occurred in Saint-Herbot, Finistère, at around 22:00. 

The family - mother, father and two girls - were outside in their garden when a neighbour opened fire on them, said the public prosecutor of Quimper, Carine Halley. 

Solaine Thornton, the eldest girl, died instantly but her younger sister, eight, escaped unharmed to another neighbour’s house and raised the alarm, added Ms Halley.

After a stand-off with the groupe d'intervention de la gendarmerie nationale (GIGN), police arrested a 71-year-old man on suspicion of murder.

The father is in critical condition in hospital after suffering head injuries. The injuries of the mother - who was shot in the back and the head - are not reported to be life-threatening. 

Alleged land dispute between neighbours

Father, Adrian Thornton, 52, worked from home, while mother Rachel, 49, was employed as an Aide à Domicile en Milieu Rural, French media reported.

The attacker “emerged suddenly with a gun and fired several times in the direction of the victims,” according to the initial evidence, said Ms Halley.

“The motives for the tragedy are not yet known,” she said, but added initial evidence pointed to a “dispute over a plot of land,” that had been ongoing “for several years”.

Some reports suggest the feud began after trees were cut down at the border between the two properties. 

The attacker was reported to have returned to his home immediately after the incident, and after a short siege involving local forces and the GIGN, was arrested alongside his wife.

The attacker's name is unknown, but the public prosecutor said he was a 71-year-old man who lived next to the family.

‘We heard noises and thought they were playing with fireworks’

Other nearby residents told reporters the incident happened out of the blue.

“The two little girls were playing near the games and on the swing, the parents were sitting on their usual bench and having a barbecue," Yannick told local newspaper Le Télégramme

“We heard noises and thought they… were playing with fireworks. Then the youngest girl came running to the neighbours shouting: ‘My sister is dead, my sister is dead’,” he added. 

The family had moved to the area a few years ago and the attack on them came as a shock to those living there.

“We knew the family well. There is a village fête every year and they always came,” said Marguerite Bleuzen, mayor of Plonévez-du-Faou (the area where the hamlet is located). 

“It’s completely incomprehensible to have shot a child… Nobody can understand how this could have happened,” she added. 

Read also

Annecy park knife attack on pre-school children: What is known so far

Arrest after shooting in eastern France leaves one dead

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