A primary school in southern France was in shock yesterday after a female teacher was stabbed to death in front of her pupils by a student's mother.
French President Francois Hollande expressed outrage at "this abominable drama" and sent Education Minister Benoit Hamon to the school to coordinate the government response.
Hamon later said the attacker - who was taken into custody soon after the incident - appeared to have psychiatric issues.
The attack on Fabienne Terral-Calmhs took place as classes began on the last day of term at Albi's Edouard Herriot primary school, which is attended by 284 students aged from three to 11. The children in the class were aged between five and six.
"This morning, a mother showed up with a knife and stabbed a 34-year-old teacher in front of her students, for reasons that will be determined by the investigation," Albi prosecutor Claude Derens said. "When I arrived at the scene they were trying to revive her. She was in cardiac arrest in her classroom."
The victim, a mother of two small children, taught in the school's kindergarten. Students and teachers were evacuated from the school immediately after the attack.
The attacker was described as a 47-year-old woman and it was not known if her five-year-old daughter was in the classroom at the time of the stabbing.
Marie-Odile Gay, a member of the regional health and safety committee for the Education Ministry, said the mother thought the teacher had called her daughter a thief, and that misperception might have played a role in the attack.
Gay said that the mother, 47, had received psychiatric counseling in the past, and had been accused by police earlier this year of abandoning her son, 15.
Gay said the attacker's daughter had not had any difficulties in school, and had been transferred to the care of social services.
"This is something that will stay with her forever," Gay said. "It's very important to ensure that she is cared for."
Hamon said the attacker's child had been in the school only for six weeks, and the mother had had very little contact with the school staff until yesterday.
He said that after the attack, the children in the class "were immediately taken in by another teacher who brought them to another classroom to talk to them, to tell them stories, to try to break them away from what they had just lived through".
"This is an appalling act, a murder, a murder of a teacher in her classroom, in front of her students, by a woman who ... seems to suffer from significant psychiatric problems," Hamon said.
Robert Couffignal, a teacher at the school who is also a representative of the regional teachers union, told BFM television that the school had experienced tensions in the past but had never seen such violence.
"We are not going to put metal detectors in front of the schools to keep the parents from entering. We are in a relation of trust with the parents," he said. "This is the relation we want to keep."
Other teachers urged better protection for teachers and attention to the tensions they face with parents.
The incident comes amid concerns over assaults on French teachers, with a study released on Thursday saying that education workers were twice as likely to be threatened and insulted than people in other professions.
However, there are only four known cases of teachers being killed in connection with their work in the last 30 years.
Additional reporting by Associated Press