October 1, 2023

France salutes ‘backpack hero’ who challenged Annecy knife attacker

4 min read

He has been hailed in France as the “backpack hero”, a young man who challenged the knife-wielding attacker who stabbed four young children and two adults in a playground in Annecy.

Videos that circulated on social media before being removed as too distressing showed Henri d’Anselme, 24, chasing the man out of the park as parents screamed, and using his bag to try to disarm the knifeman before pursuing him.

He said on Friday he had acted on instinct to prevent further bloodshed.

“I didn’t even think about it. The brain turned off,” he told French television.

“It was impossible to let people be attacked by this person who seemed to be a furious madman. He tried at one point to attack me, our eyes met and I realised it was someone not in any normal state, there was something very bad in him that had to be stopped.”

In another interview, D’Anselme, a devout Christian and former Scout leader, told CNews: “I don’t think it was an accident that I crossed this man … I acted instinctively and did what I could to protect the weakest. It was unthinkable not to act.”

Henri, who reportedly comes from a large Catholic family from west Paris, was nine months into a year-long walking tour of French cathedrals when he stopped at Annecy. He was documenting his pilgrimage on his Instagram account and had amassed about 6,000 followers (a following that has now jumped to more than 76,000).

Allow Instagram content?

This article includes content provided by Instagram. We ask for your permission before anything is loaded, as they may be using cookies and other technologies. To view this content, click ‘Allow and continue’.Allow and continue

The philosophy and international management graduate had already travelled more than 800 miles (1,300 km) on foot or hitchhiking and visited 24 cathedrals including Arles, Avignon, Nîmes, Béziers, Agde and Grenoble where he told the local newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré he was passionate about France’s religious heritage.

He said his trip was aimed at answering two questions: “Why did our ancestors go to such great lengths to build these jewels [and] what does this say about our country today and the lessons we can learn from it?”

D’Anselme, originally from Le Pecq in the Yvelines north-west of Paris, studied at the EMD – Business School in Marseille. He obtained his master’s degree in international management before setting off on his tour of French cathedrals.

One of his friends from the Marseille business school told the Journal du Dimanche: “If you were going to get into a fight you wouldn’t pick him from first impressions. He weighs 50kg soaking wet and is a beanpole who is afraid of heights. But on Thursday, he put his fear of danger to one side in a flash.”

Early on Thursday morning D’Anselme had posted photographs showing the beauty of Lake Annecy, but moments later, the images were to be replaced in his head by what he describes as “atrocious scenes” after he arrived at a lakeside park where children and their parents and childminders were enjoying the sunny morning.

He heard sudden screaming and saw a man with a large knife in the playground. After chasing the attacker out of the children’s area – trying to disarm the man by hitting him with his backpack then using it to defend himself – D’Anselme pursued as he fled across the park.

“I tried to run with my 20kg rucksack on my back, but then realised he was getting away so I let it go and continued to follow him with a small backpack. It seems mad, but you do what you can,” he said.

“I hear lots of people calling me a national hero, but in reality I acted as any French person would have done. I just happened to be there, perhaps I was meant to be, but anyone would have done what I did. Everyone is capable of doing something similar.”

Told the knifeman had crossed himself and claimed to be acting in the name of Jesus, D’Anselme added: “I don’t know what he claimed. It is profoundly anti-Christian to attack innocent, unarmed and weak people. I don’t understand how someone can claim to be Christian and attack children in this way.”

On his Instagram account he wrote: “Thank you for all your messages of support! My thoughts go especially to the victims and their parents. I hope they will come through this.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *