Annecy, France - Three of the four people killed in a mystery shooting in the French Alps were shot in the head in what the prosecutor in charge of the case Thursday called an act of “extreme savagery.”
Eric Maillaud said he could not say whether the unexplained attack had the hallmarks of a professional assassination.
But he added: “It was clearly an act of extreme savagery and it was obvious that whoever did this wanted to kill.”
Maillaud revealed that the elder of two young sisters who survived the shooting had been placed in an induced coma ahead of further surgery in a hospital in Grenoble.
The prosecutor said the girl had been shot in the shoulder and suffered multiple and “extremely violent” blows to the head during Wednesday's attack.
“Her life is not in danger but obviously she is no state to be interviewed,” he added.
Three of the four people killed were found in a British-registered BMW estate car. The fourth victim, a cyclist who arrived at the scene by chance, was named Thursday as Sylvain Mollier, a local father.
Police sources have confirmed that the car belonged to Saad al-Hilli, a 50-year-old born in Iraq but resident in Surrey in the southeast of England.
The elder of two women found dead in the back seat of the car was identified as a Swedish passport holder. A younger woman, thought to be al-Hilli's wife, was carrying an Iraqi passport.
Maillaud also cast light on how a four-year-girl who was in the car at the time of the shooting managed to survive having appeared “completely invisible” under the skirt of her mother.
The little girl spent eight hours crouching beneath her mother's corpse after the first firemen and police officers to arrive on the scene failed to spot her.
The officers were under orders to leave the car untouched pending the arrival of forensic experts who did not get to the scene of the crime Äa forest car park near the village of Chevaline - until nearly midnight on Wednesday.
The family had been staying since September 3 at the nearby Saint Jorioz camp site, where fellow campers reported their disappearance on Wednesday evening.
Chevaline and the surrounding area on the shores of Lake Annecy is popular with tourists, including many Britons.
Maillaud said the victims were discovered by a veteran of Britain's Royal Air Force who has a second home in the area and cycled into the car park at 3:48 pm Wednesday.
The cyclist who was killed had overtaken the veteran minutes earlier. As the Briton arrived in the car park, the elder girl stumbled towards him before collapsing on to the ground.
He immediately alerted emergency services in an action that probably saved her life, according to the prosecutor.
Several witnesses reported seeing a car speeding away from the scene around the time the attack took place.
Experts from the national gendarmerie's IRCGN unit collected DNA evidence from the scene and were checking spent bullet cartridges in an attempt to identify the weapons used.
Local police defended the decisions that led to the four-year-old being left in the car for so long.
“We had instructions not to enter the car and not to move the bodies,” Lieutenant-Colonel Benoit Vinnemann of the local gendarmerie told AFP.
The gendarmes were unable to open the doors of the family's BMW for fear that bullet-pierced windows would shatter, potentially compromising the work of the IRCGN forensic team.
“Firemen, technicians and doctors all looked into the car through the holes in the windows but none of them saw the girl,” Vinnemann added.
A helicopter equipped with a thermal camera took images of the car to check if there were any other bodies inside but also failed to identify the girl.
“She was so close to her mother they appeared as one mass,” said Vinnemann. - Sapa-AFP