It was early morning when little Miriam Monsonego was readying to enter her school, the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in Toulouse, France.
The 8-year-old waited outside in a courtyard, where nearby Rabbi Jonathan Sandler prepared his two boys, 6-year-old Aryeh and 3-year-old Gabriel, to enter their classrooms as well.
None of them would make it inside.
The Toulouse Jewish day school shooting made headlines around the world on March 19, 2012. A lone gunman, who would later be identified as Mohammed Merah, sped into the Ozar Hatorah courtyard on his motorcycle carrying a 9mm pistol and a .45 caliber gun. At 8 am Central European Time, Merah opened fire.
The shootings took place in a matter of minutes, with nearby students rushing into the classrooms. Merah boarded his motorcycle once more and raced off, leaving four victims behind.
But it wasn’t his first attack. Just eight days earlier Merah shot and killed an off-duty paratrooper in Toulouse. Then, on March 15, he killed three more.
Police finally caught up with the gunman only days later, committing to a standoff with Merah at the 23-year-old’s apartment building. The confrontation lasted 30 hours, at the end of which Merah was dead.
The weeks that followed painted a picture of the young terrorist. An extremist by most accounts and a self-described follower of al Qaeda, Merah was also a radical Muslim who believed holy jihad was the calling of Islam. He went on training missions to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and filmed himself explaining the roots of his crusade.
The video evidence displayed a man filled with anti-Semitism, telling the camera, “The Jews have killed our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”
Last year on the first anniversary of the killings, then-French President Francois Hollande hosted a commemoration ceremony to mark the lives lost at Merah’s hands. In an address to attendees, Hollande made a parallel to the deportation of French Jews during the Holocaust, recalling the largest deportation, known as the Velodrome d’Hiver, which had its 70th anniversary just the weekend before.
“Jews of Toulouse died for the same reason as those in the Velodrome d’Hiver or Drancy,” he said. “Because they were Jews.”
“Behind the hatred of Jews and Israel, there is the desire to destroy the Republic by trampling its founding values that are the essence of citizenship and the foundation of our freedom,” Hollande added.
The president went on to call for an end to extremism and terrorism, calling on authorities around the world to unite in stamping out violent hate acts in all forms.
Hollande vowed to do everything he could to ensure “the evil that took them will be defeated and that a Jewish child never has to fear for his life because he is Jewish.”
Also during the anniversary, on a visit to France, Israeli President Shimon Peres met with French Islamic leaders to remember the victims.
“Whoever was responsible for the murder of French citizens and Jewish children in Toulouse showed the ugly face of terror, and your words show the way of peace,” Peres said.
“We are here to say to our brothers, the Jews and the French: We are all threatened by terror, hurt by terror and we all call with optimism for peace at the end of this terrible year,” added Imam Chalghoumi, head of the Conference of Imams in France.