France honours police couple killed in terrorist knife attack

France Polic

France Polic

France on Wednesday held a moment of silence to honour police commander Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and officer Jessica Schneider, who were stabbed to death Monday in what officials described as a terrorist attack. FRANCE 24 takes a look at their lives.

Jean-Baptiste Salvaing “was a police officer in the noblest sense of the term”, one colleague, Sabrina Rigollé, told French daily Le Parisien. “A good cop. Simple, humane, dynamic. He was able to defuse complicated situations with laughter.”

Salvaing, 42, was brutally stabbed to death in front of his home in the western Paris suburb of Magnanville at around 8pm on Monday by a man identified as Larossi Abballa, a 25-year-old French citizen who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.

After killing Salvaing, Abballa took Schneider, 36, and the couple’s 3-year-old son hostage in their home. There, he slit Schneider’s throat before posting a chilling video on Facebook boasting about the murders and promising “more surprises during the Euro” 2016 football championship, which is currently being hosted by France. Abballa was later killed in a dramatic raid by elite police forces, who rescued the couple’s son.

Following their deaths, tributes began pouring in for Salvaing and Schneider, who worked as an administrative assistant at a police station in the neighbouring town of Mantes-la-Jolie. Friends and colleagues spoke warmly of the couple, whom they described as upstanding and extremely well liked.

‘A great man’

Salvaing was raised in the southwestern French town of Pézenas, where he grew up playing rugby – a passion he shared with his father, a doctor and former president of the local rugby club.

“He was an upstanding boy with outstanding morals. He was brilliant…,” a relative (who, like many of those who spoke about the couple, declined to give her name) told France’s RTL radio. “I loved him very much and was very admiring of who he was. He really was incredible.”

In 2000, Salvaing was assigned as a cadet to the police station in Mantes-la-Jolie, where he would later meet Schneider. He steadily rose through the ranks, joining a regional anti-crime unit before being promoted to captain.

Salvaing was again promoted in September 2015, this time to the rank of commander, after accepting a position as the deputy chief of urban security in the nearby town of Les Mureaux.

“He was a great man,” Salvaing’s former superior at Mantes-la-Jolie told Le Parisien. “I was the one who pushed him to go to Les Mureaux so he could become a commander. And his companion, Jessica, was my secretary for six years, which is to say I knew this couple well.”

While there are few details about Schneider’s life, colleagues remembered her for her professionalism and as someone “who built ties between people”.

“I can’t imagine that she’s dead,” one police officer told Le Parisien. “She was such a nice woman, who never asked anyone for anything.”

The couple are survived by their son, and Salvaing is also survived by his 10-year-old son from a previous relationship.

French President François Hollande announced on Tuesday that both boys will be made “wards of France” – a special legal status dating back to World War I that entitles them to special state support.