Fire in Aubervilliers: "The little one, he needs a psychologist, not a judge"

In the town of Pont-Blanc, in Aubervilliers (Seine-Saint-Denis), the building can already be recognized from a distance with its façade blackened by flames. In this popular district, on rue Hémet 38, a pregnant woman and her three children died on 26 July during the disaster that destroyed their building. A month has passed, but the alleged arsonist, indicted for "Voluntary fire resulting in death", we know almost nothing except his age: 10 years. On the spot the memory of this day reminds children, victims on one side and accused by the other, always the spirits. "Fragrances" remembering the tragedy every time, says a resident of the neighborhood, who lives there for forty years and walks with his dog through the building that is managed by the OPH, the public bureau HLM. "Sometimes it still smells like burnt and cleaning product in the stairwell."

Another resident, Isabelle, a worker in Aubervilliers, 54, thirteen of whom lived in the city, sits on the gray staircase at the entrance of the eighteen-storey tower. During the incident she was in the supermarket. The fire broke out around 17:15. One of her friends warned her by telephone: "There is fire in your home." Before sending him a photo on his cell phone. Isabelle rushed back to Pont-Blanc. "I arrived at 6.15 pm, all people were evacuated, I cried, I collapsed before I knew there were dead people." It took the fire department almost four hours to solve the flames around 10 o'clock

"Braids and backpack"

In the dimly lit lobby of the tower with 108 units, the floor is covered with small, beige-tinted cold tiles. It is almost cool, while outside the thermometer the temperature exceeds 30 ° C. The fire goes back almost two weeks. Isabelle falls on Samir, 32, one of the residents of the building. They did not know each other before. It is Samir who starts the conversation, at the foot of the stairs: "How are you at home?" Located on the seventh floor, Isabelle's apartment was spared by the flames. That of Samir, who is at the outbreak of the fire in the sixteenth, is destroyed. "Everything burned in my house, everything is dead, he regrets it. His sister, who lives on another floor of the same large ensemble, offered him shelter to help him. "I recently woke up at four o'clock in the night, I heard some noise, I thought I saw smoke. & # 39;

Samir continues his conversation with Isabelle and, inevitably, they come to talk about it "the family", the one who was tragically hit by the fire. The 33-year-old mother and her children: 1 year and a half, 4 years and 6 years old. All dead. Isabelle thinks she remembers one of the victims, a little girl "With his braids and his backpack, I have crossed him from time to time in the elevator. There is little information about the dead in these towers where there is little talk. The name of the mother was Fatoumata and she worked as a cashier in the local supermarket until she was born. On August 3, eight days after the fire, a Muslim ritual in the presence of the remains, the salat al janaza, took place in the gymnasium Robespierre, a few hundred meters from the building on the rue Hémet. An invitation to remember was passed on, especially on social networks. The four victims were then buried in Mali.

Nobody knows the boy who is suspected of being on fire. His first name was not revealed, nor the exact circumstances of the facts. The only public elements about his role come from a legal source: "He played with a lighter and set a torch on fire, and failed to extinguish the fire, which spread to the apartment and then to the adjacent apartments. Residents of the building, shocked by the fire, are astonished that the boy has been charged by the investigating judge. "You can not be responsible at 10 o'clock We've all done stupid things at this age, regrets a resident with glasses circled in blue. "He's going to hang his whole life," loose Isabelle. "I do not know if we are aware at the age of 10 … I do not think it's normal, Samir said. The little one, he needs a psychologist. No judge. If so, he went to school with the children who died … "

"Good to distinguish from bad"

Since his indictment, the boy had to leave the apartment where he lived with his mother. The investigating judge has issued a removal order from Aubervilliers. The child was entrusted to his father, who lives outside the Seine-Saint-Denis. "In France we are criminally responsible if we can distinguish between good and evil, there is no fixed age, it is the judge who will appreciate this discernment, usually around 7 or 8 years," explains release Jean-Baptiste Perrier, professor of private law at the University of Aix-Marseille and director of the Institute for Criminology and Criminology at Aix-en-Provence. At the age of 10 a child can be subjected to educational measures or sanctions, but can not be sentenced to a fine – or a fine.

"At the end of the investigation, the judge will decide whether to bring the case before the court, which must take place before the juvenile court, continues with the lawyer, who reminds that opening an instruction is mandatory when minors are involved. The indictment makes it possible to conduct a thorough investigation of the person in order to be able to express measures that are adapted to his situation. The philosophy of the approach is rather education that it punishment. "

Since the incident, residents have questions about the safety in their building. Samir turns around and answers these interrogations in his head, he would like "Know if it could have been avoided". According to him, the evacuation plan for the building was only shown a few days after the fire in the entrance. Or maybe he was already there, but the thirty had not noticed it before. "Even if it is not that people would save," he drops and shrugs his shoulders. Asked about this, the president of OPH Aubervilliers, Anthony Daguet, ensures that the building meets safety standards and that "The evacuation plan was correctly placed upstream of the incident. […]. The building was rehabilitated in 2005. The tower was clean and fairly well maintained ", underlines the one who is also deputy mayor of Aubervilliers, Meriem Derkaoui (PCF). The chosen representative speaks of a "Quiet city, quiet, without stories". In a statement on the evening of the charges against the boy suspected of being a fighter, the mayor of Aubervilliers pleaded on 30 July "The light is made and the causes [de l’incendie] be identified with respect for the rights of victims and the rights of the child ".

In the anesthesia of the summer, peace prevails in the northern city of Aubervilliers. Some young people settled on folding chairs on the sidewalk, not far from several shops: a halal butcher, a supermarket and a pharmacy. The stores are grouped under the name "Commercial Center", inscription prominently on a gray wall. Most stores have closed doors. Between the social housing of the Pont-Blanc, the children zigzag in the parking lot. From time to time the crying and screaming of a baby come to break the calm. At the top of the tower forty charred flats became uninhabitable. "In the beginning it was necessary to place electricity and gas in the building," says Anthony Daguet. As far as the destroyed houses are concerned, they will have to undergo heavy work, rehabilitation that has to start for several months. The floors concerned were only secured by firefighters. "There is already the insurance game, it is a great mechanism to set up, the deputy continues, we should exceed more than one million euros. [de frais]. " In the meantime, their residents had to look for a roof. "Nine housing units were urgently made available by the DPO during an allocation committee on 3 August, gives details about the chosen ones. Some wanted to stay in the neighborhood, others wanted to flee him. " A family has moved in the Hauts-de-Seine, two in Val-d'Oise, and two others, on holiday, are not yet fixated on their fate.

During their discussion at the foot of the building, Isabelle and Samir reconstruct the chronology of the disaster. The flames, then the two hundred firefighters who intervened. Five residents of the neighborhood supported them by knocking on the doors of the apartments to warn the residents and bring them out who had seen nothing and heard nothing. "They were young people," says Isabelle with a touch of affection in her voice. "Those who often hang down, sometimes we complain", Samir adds.

Clarisse Martin Denis Allard photo for release

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