Paris prosecutor: Fire suspect has history of mental issues


PARIS (AP) — A suspect in the fire that killed 10 people as it devastated a Paris apartment building was hospitalized at least 13 times in the past decade for mental health issues and completed her most recent stay a week ago, the Paris prosecutor said Wednesday.

Prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters the female suspect who was detained on suspicion of arson spent nearly two weeks at a Paris psychiatric facility before she was released on Jan. 30. She had a clean police record but was involved in three prior judicial procedures, one for setting fire to clothes in a store, Heitz said.

Two other complaints were thrown out due to her mental state, he said.

The woman was under evaluation Wednesday in the police psychiatric infirmary. She was transferred there Tuesday after she gave investigators “confused” responses to their questions, Heitz said.

However, she indicated she was not behind the fire that broke out early Tuesday, the prosecutor said.

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The exact cause of the blaze and whether it began in one or more parts of the building were under investigation, Heitz said.

The fire at the nine-story apartment building in the French capital’s posh 16th arrondissement was the deadliest in Paris since 24 people died in an April 2005 hotel fire near the famed Opera.

Officers responding to a trash can fire near the building while firetrucks were racing there arrested the woman after she allegedly tied a scarf around a car’s mirror and tried to set fire to it with a cigarette lighter, according to a police report.

French authorities said Tuesday a criminal investigation of the apartment fire was underway for “destruction by a flammable substance that caused deaths and injuries.”

Two residents reported the fire before 1 a.m. Tuesday. One was an off-duty firefighter who lived next to the suspect and had gotten into a noise dispute with her and summoned police not long before.

The flames quickly engulfed the building, including the only staircase leading out. Residents said the hallways were being painted, so plastic lined the floor to catch drips. There were no fire extinguishers — none are required in most Paris apartment buildings — and also no fire alarms or fire doors.

A number of people became trapped on the upper floors and a heavy-duty fire rescue truck was too big to fit inside an inner courtyard that offered access to reach them. Firefighters climbed ladders hooked from window ledges and brought survivors down one by one, by the ladders and by rappelling the building’s facade.

At least a dozen people were rescued this way, according to witness testimony, including a handful of adults and children who had inched out onto a ledge to escape the flames.

A 21-year-old resident of the building, identified by Le Parisien newspaper only by the first name Morgane, said after seeing fire outside the door of her fifth-floor apartment, she waited to be rescued along with her cat and a friend for 45 interminable minutes.

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After firefighters reach them, she, her friend and the cat descended by rappel.

“I had one hand on the rope and in the other I had a bag with my cat” she said. “I couldn’t imagine leaving another living creature to die there. I wouldn’t have forgiven myself.”

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