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Thousands mourn French gun victims

Relatives grieve during Tuesday's service  

NANTERRE, France -- Around 14,000 people have paid tribute to eight officials who died when a gunman opened fire at a French suburban city council meeting last week.

Both President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, the frontrunners in the French presidential race, joined family members and residents of Nanterre for a one-hour ceremony at the Gabriel-Peri sports stadium just outside Paris on Tuesday.

Eight people were killed and 19 others wounded when a gunman opened fire on March 27 at the close of a municipal meeting in Nanterre.

A public funeral outside Paris draws the frontrunners in the French presidential race. CNN's Lise Mirando reports (April 2)

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The suspect, Richard Durn, 33, killed himself a day after the rampage by jumping from a fourth-floor window of the Paris police headquarters while two officers were questioning him.

Durn is said to have spoken of suicidal thoughts and a desire to kill others.

Musicians from Nanterre's conservatory opened the ceremony before the crowd observed a moment of silence. A local theatre troupe also read messages honouring the victims.

Speaking at the ceremony, the town's mayor, Jacqueline Fraysse, urged authorities to find answers.

"How was (Durn) authorized to own weapons?" she asked. "How could a man this dangerous, who had clearly stated his intention to commit suicide... escape surveillance?"

The suspect used two Glock semiautomatic pistols in the attack and also carried a .357 Magnum. His gun license had expired.

After Durn's suicide, the Justice and Interior ministries opened an investigation, and Interior Minister Daniel Vaillant promised action if police were found to have mishandled the case.

Schools, businesses and council offices in the area closed on Tuesday as a mark of respect.

Durn left a suicide note saying he wanted to be as hated as Osama bin Laden, a French press report said.

"I want to have the same stature as bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Milosevic...," Durn wrote, according to the daily Le Parisien.

A female friend said she received the letter on Wednesday following the shooting.

"I've decided to put an end to my life, but before that, I'm going to be a serial killer," he wrote in the letter quoted in the newspaper.

"I've gone mad, become a dropout and therefore I must die," he wrote in a long testament found at his home, the daily Liberation reported. "For months now, thoughts of carnage and death have filled my head."


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