British girl, 11, from single gunshot wound to the heart, says autopsy

France: Brittany property where British girl was shot dead

A British girl killed in France over the weekend was shot through the heart by her neighbour using a bullet from a rifle, an autopsy has revealed. Solaine Thornton, 11, alongside her parents and younger sister, were the victims of a shocking attack last Saturday when their Dutch neighbour opened fire on them while they played in their garden. 

It is believed the 71-year-old male neighbour was frustrated about the noise coming from a plot of land the Thornton’s had been renovating for roughly three years. 

Forensic findings carried out on Tuesday showed that 11-year-old Solaine had been shot in the heart by a single cartridge fired from a Winchester 22 long rifle.‌

There was some doubt as to whether she could have been shot in the back after her mother had shouted at her to run away but the autopsy confirmed the deadly bullet “went from the front to the back and out”, according to Camille Miansoni, the Brest public prosecutor.

The girl’s father, Adrian Thornton, 50, remains in a very serious condition on Wednesday evening – he was shot in the head by the neighbour – but is “stable”, according to the prosecutor. Meanwhile, Solaine’s mother was shot in the back and also remains in hospital. 

Only Mr Thornton’s second daughter was unharmed as she managed to escape to a neighbour’s house. However, she was reported to have fled the scene repeatedly screaming “my sister is dead” after witnessing the murder. 

The presumed shooter, Dirk Raats, who is said to have been exasperated by the victims’ brush-clearing work, including the noise of a chainsaw in a nearby plot of land, has been charged with murder and attempted murder and jailed. 

A Winchester 22 long rifle, identified as the weapon that delivered the fatal bullets, was found in his home. He faces 30 years’ imprisonment.

Raats, nicknamed “The Belgian” due to his wife’s nationality and the fact he was born in Antwerp, told a court in nearby Brest on Tuesday that he “did not understand how [the attack] could have happened”. 

His wife, 69, has also been arrested because she concealed the gun her husband used to shoot the neighbours.

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The pensioner, described by his neighbours as someone who never said hello and rarely went out, had already pulled out a gun in the past during a neighbourhood dispute. 

The Town Hall had already intervened to mediate but according to the local mayor, there was no reason to expect such a tragedy.

Since Monday, residents of the Finistere region of Brittany have been in shock following the attack. 

According to the French media, it was the clearing of the plot of land belonging to the British family, who arrived in the village in 2019, that caused tension between the residents. 

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