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Gunman kills 3 children, teacher outside Jewish school in France

March 19, 2012 |  4:12 am

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REPORTING FROM PARIS -- Three schoolchildren and a teacher were reported killed Monday after a gunman opened fire outside a Jewish high school in the southern French city of Toulouse.

The shooting took place outside the Ozar-Hatorah secondary school in a residential area. Police said the gunman opened fire on a group of parents and children outside the school before entering the playground, where he continued to shoot people at close range. At least one other person was seriously injured, police said.

Early, unconfirmed reports said the dead included a rabbi who taught at the school and his two sons, ages 3 and 6. The fourth victim, between 8 and 10 years old, was believed to be the daughter of the head of the school. The shooting happened around 8:10 a.m. local time.

PHOTOS: Shooting at French school

Investigators said one of the weapons used by the gunman, who escaped on a motor-scooter, was an 11.43-millimeter pistol, the same type of weapon used in two attacks on soldiers in the same region in the last 10 days. A paratrooper was killed in Toulouse just over a week ago and two more were killed in Montauban, 28 miles north of Toulouse, on Thursday.  A third soldier, also shot at close range in Montauban, is hospitalized in critical condition. The soldiers were all of North African or Caribbean descent.

Investigators said it was too early to establish a link with the school shooting.

Speaking after Monday's shooting, local prosecutor Michel Valet said the gunman first opened fire with a 9-millimeter weapon outside the school, "firing at everything in front on him." When he ran out of ammunition, he continued shooting with another pistol inside the school before fleeing on the scooter, Valet said.

A witness inside the school, identified only as Alain, told French television: "I saw at once a man in a helmet -- not a military helmet, a motorcycle helmet -- who had come into the playground of the school a few feet from the entrance. He was shooting not haphazardly but directly as close as possible to the head of those, adults and pupils, around the entrance of the school."

President Nicolas Sarkozy, in the middle of an election campaign, traveled immediately to the school. He described the shootings as an "appalling tragedy." 

"The whole French republic is touched by this abominable drama," he said.

The French interior ministry ordered all police headquarters across the country to step up security around Jewish schools and colleges, especially those in the south. "We have to be very vigilant. There is one or more killer out there right now," a ministry spokesman said.

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Photo: A student is flanked by an unidentified woman and police officers as they leave the scene of Monday's shooting. Credit: Manu Blondeau / Associated Press

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