From Pierre Meilhan and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
(CNN) — For hours, the small girl hid, unnoticed, in a car with the bodies of two British women and a man killed in a mysterious shooting in eastern France.
Probably paralyzed by fear, the 4-year-old remained among the corpses as police investigators waited for crime scene technicians to arrive so the car could be opened.
She is now under police protection, as is an 8-year-old girl who was found injured near the car.
Prosecutor Eric Maillaud told reporters that investigators failed to notice the younger girl because she didn’t move for hours as they waited for the forensic experts.
She was hidden under the legs of one of the dead women and concealed by a large bag. A thermal imaging camera also failed to pick up her presence, Maillaud said.
The child was “probably terrorized, completely concealed, completely immobile amid the corpses,” he told reporters.
The identities of the three Britons found dead in the car have not been revealed. A fourth victim, a French cyclist found shot in the head near the car, has been named as Sylvain Moliet.
The drama unfolding in a remote, wooded area near Chevaline in the Haute-Savoie area of eastern France has gripped the French and British media.
Maillaud called the shooting an act of “extreme savagery,” but he declined to speculate on a motive, saying police were ruling nothing out.
“The scene is dramatic, it’s unusual — it goes well beyond TV fiction,” he told reporters.
The details from Maillaud have only added to the mystery surrounding the grisly shooting near Lake Annecy, a popular tourist spot.
The driver and an older woman found dead in the car had been shot in the head, he said, “and it was obvious that (whoever) who did this wanted to kill.” Autopsies are scheduled Friday and should reveal how the other passenger, a younger woman, died.
But Maillaud repeatedly declined to give reporters the names of those found dead in the car, which had multiple bullet casings scattered around it.
The car was registered to a man with an Iraqi passport, who was a naturalized British citizen, he said. The passport was used when the visitors checked in to the campsite where they were staying, Maillaud said, but police can’t confirm whether it belonged to the man who was found dead in the car.
The man named in the passport was born in 1962, he said. A Swedish passport found by investigators may belong to the older woman, he added.
The two girls — who are British — are being kept under police protection in case of possible threats to their safety, he said.
“You can imagine in an inquiry all possible scenarios can be investigated, including that someone wanted to get rid of additional witnesses,” he said.
The 4-year-old has only been able to tell police that she heard noises and screams and was afraid, he said.
Maillaud also recounted how the gruesome scene was discovered just before 4 p.m. local time Wednesday by another British man, a cyclist who was a Royal Air Force veteran with a holiday home in the area.
The British man, who had been passed a short while earlier by the French cyclist found dead at the scene, discovered the car, engine still running, in a parking lot in a forest used by people going on short walks.
The 8-year-old girl was approaching the car and was about to pass out in front of the man, Maillaud said. He placed her in a safe position on the ground and called emergency services.
The man then discovered the cyclist who had passed him earlier, dead on the ground.
After walking round the car, the British man broke the driver’s side window and saw three people inside it, all also dead.
The girl who was wounded in the shooting was taken to a hospital in Grenoble. There was only one child car seat in the vehicle, which led officials to believe she was the only child present, Maillaud said.
As a result, authorities were only alerted to the likely presence of a second child after speaking to people at the campsite where the shooting victims had been staying, Maillaud said.
When they searched the car again, by now late at night, they found the 4-year-old girl hidden under the younger woman’s legs.
After being checked over for injuries, she was taken to a children’s psychiatric unit, where a nurse remained with her overnight, he said.
The girl, who was not physically harmed, will only be questioned with British consular officials present, Maillaud said.
“Her life is not in danger, but she has experienced something awful,” he said.
Moliet, the French cyclist, had lived in the region for 20 years and was on paternity leave, CNN affiliate BFM-TV reported.
The parking lot where the bodies were found is a place where families leave their cars before going for walks or picnics, Maillaud said.
It is not regarded as a dangerous area or one where drugs deals might be done.
The UK Foreign Office said it was looking into the shooting.
Surrey Police confirmed they are assisting their counterparts in Annecy in connection with the deaths. The victims are thought to have lived in Surrey, just outside London.
“This is an ongoing investigation being carried out by the French authorities, and we are unable to confirm any details about the incident,” a police statement said.