DENDERMONDE, Belgium (Reuters) - Prosecutors charged a 20-year-old unemployed Belgian with murdering two babies and a woman and wounding 13 others in a frenzied knife attack at a creche that stunned Belgium.
Prosecutor Christian Du Four, at a news conference on Saturday, identified the man only as “Kim D,” who lived alone some 30 km (20 miles) from the scene of Friday’s attack in the town of Dendermonde.
The man had no previous criminal record. When arrested he was carrying a knife, a small axe, a fake pistol and was wearing body armor. Two more knives were found at the scene.
“We don’t know about his motive. He doesn’t say anything ... he’s very passive,” said Du Four, adding that the suspect would appear in court on Tuesday.
Local media dubbed the assailant the “Joker” killer because his face was painted white and his eyes blackened, like the criminal mastermind in the Batman films.
He arrived at the Fabeltjesland — Fairytale Land — creche in Dendermonde, 30 km (20 miles) west of Brussels in mid-morning on Friday saying he wanted to ask a question.
But he then ran into the creche’s rooms and launched his attacks, slashing at victims with a knife, before cycling off. He was detained a short time later at a shop.
There were 18 infants aged up to three years and six adults in the creche. Those killed were aged six and nine months and a woman child minder, aged 54. Some of the wounded children would require plastic surgery, hospital staff said.
Belgium was in shock. De Morgen newspaper bore the headline “Cold, Bloodthirsty, Inhuman,” while the Gazet Van Antwerpen simply asked “Why?.”
Residents, many still mouthing disbelief, laid bouquets and teddy bears at the creche, mourning what Le Soir newspaper called an appalling massacre of innocents.
Tens of thousands of people expressed condolences online on the Facebook networking site.
Some Belgian media said a piece of paper had been found in the suspect’s pocket with the address of another day care center — suggesting he may have planned more than one attack.
Shocked locals gathered to look as police cordoned off a two-storey red-brick house where the suspect lived in the village of Sinnai. Student Baart Hendrik said the suspect had lived in the middle-class area only about two months.
“He’s not really from here ... I don’t think anyone from the neighborhood would really know him,” he said. “Everyone is deeply shocked ... what’s happened is dreadful.”
Commentators compared the sense of public outrage to that caused by the Marc Dutroux pedophile killings a decade ago. Dutroux was convicted of kidnapping and raping six girls and perceived police incompetence provoked mass protests.
“I can’t understand why anyone would want to kill small children,” said a young girl in Dendermonde where the national flag flew at half mast.
“You see this kind of thing on TV and you think it’s bad,” said another resident, Nicole Verhelst. “You don’t realize, but now when it happens in your own street, so close to us.”
Another resident An Verheyden said: “It really hurts. Your child sees what happened on the news. It’s bad for them too, when they have small brothers and they hear about it.”
Mayor Piet Buyse said townsfolk wanted to show solidarity with victims’ families. “We are bleeding with them,” he said.
Additional reporting by Mark John and Philip Blenkinsop, writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Charles Dick