Dendermonde killer on suicide watch

Summary

The 20-year-old man accused of killing two babies and a child minder at the Fabeltjesland (“Fairy Tale Land”) crèche in Sint-Gillis near Dendermonde was refusing food in Bruges prison this week and maintaining his silence in the face of investigators’ questions. He has been placed on suicide watch at the prison, and was due to appear before a judge as Flanders Today went to press to determine whether he is sane enough to stand trial on three charges of murder and 12 of attempted murder.

7,000 people silent march in Sint-Gillis Dendermonde
 
7,000 people silent march in Sint-Gillis Dendermonde

Young man killed three, injured 12 in crèche

The 20-year-old man accused of killing two babies and a child minder at the Fabeltjesland (“Fairy Tale Land”) crèche in Sint-Gillis near Dendermonde was refusing food in Bruges prison this week and maintaining his silence in the face of investigators’ questions. He has been placed on suicide watch at the prison, and was due to appear before a judge as Flanders Today went to press to determine whether he is sane enough to stand trial on three charges of murder and 12 of attempted murder.

Kim De Gelder entered the crèche unhindered on the morning of Friday, 24 January, carrying two knives, an axe and a replica of a pistol in a backpack. When questioned by 54-year-old child minder Marita Blindeman, he stabbed her, then began attacking babies sleeping in their cots. One baby boy, aged nine months, was killed instantly. Another aged six months died later. A further 10 children and two child minders were injured.

De Gelder, who witnesses described as extremely thin, with dyed red hair and wearing white makeup, escaped on his bicycle but was caught by police five kilometres away in Lebbeke. According to some reports, his plan was to attack another crèche nearby, but prosecutors would neither confirm nor deny this.

The alarm was raised, apparently by Blindeman in her last moments, and police arrived. Theo Janssens, chairman of the social aid committee that runs the facility, arrived on the scene at the same time as the first emergency service personnel. “Blood everywhere, a total disaster,” he said later. “I literally had to step over injured babies. Everyone and everything was covered in blood.”

Panic soon spread through the town in East Flanders. Anxious parents, hearing the news from early reports or friends, rushed to the scene. The panic was made worse because there are two crèches in Sint-Gillis within close proximity, and early reports were not clear which one had been attacked.

Arrested immediately

De Gelder was arrested not far away after a police helicopter flew over the area. He did not resist and was found wearing a bulletproof vest. Jef Vermassen, a criminal lawyer who is also an expert on the behaviour of murderers, said that this detail was exceptional in the case of mass murderers, who more often than not see their own death – either by their own hand or at the hands of the police – as the climax of their killing spree. The murder weapon was found by police thrown into bushes near the crime scene.

After being taken briefly to hospital in Aalst, De Gelder was moved to Dendermonde for questioning. According to the prosecutor’s office, he was refusing to cooperate, only laughing at officers’ questions. It emerged later that he had been moved to the medical wing of Bruges prison, having refused food and drink and was being fed through an IV drip.

De Gelder is unemployed and lived alone in Sinaai near Sint-Niklaas. He has no police record and is not known to be under psychiatric care, in contrast to first reports. He was described by neighbours as a loner, interested only in computers and films, who hardly spoke and “lived in his own little world”.

At the wholesale gifts and decoration company in Belsele where he worked for a year, he was described as conscientious but slow, finding it difficult to get on socially with co-workers. Nobody had ever had any reason to think of him as aggressive. He left the company at the end of last year, having explained to colleagues that his parents were about to leave on a trip around the world, and he wanted to go with them.

The stabbing victims were initially taken to hospitals in Ghent, Lokeren and Sint-Niklaas but later gathered together in Ghent University Hospital. Emergency services at the scene had to improvise a system of identification for the babies and toddlers, few of whom were able to identify themselves. Each child had a number written with marker pen on the forehead and a digital photo taken. These were then shown to parents gathered at a nearby crisis centre to allow identifications to be made.

Uninjured children were allowed to go home. One of them was the daughter of Bart Van Belle, a journalist with De Standaard, who detailed his experiences in the newspaper. “The news comes like a slap in the face. My body floods with adrenalin. I’m not panicking, but the uncertainty is a killer,” he wrote on Saturday. “I realise our daughter came out of it all right. Kids who lay sleeping beside her are gone or are fighting for their lives in the hospital. And I realise all over again that we’ve been extremely lucky indeed.”

According to Dendermonde mayor Piet Buyse, the Fabeltjesland crèche will not reopen. "The staff could not put babies in their cots in that place,” he said. “Imagine what it would be like for parents to go back."


Reactions worldwide

The international media were quick to pick up the story, with reports on BBC and CNN and in newspapers from Sydney to Los Angeles. Predictably, most made reference to Belgium’s notoriety as the home of Marc Dutroux, the man convicted of abducting and murdering four girls in 1996.

“Not Belgium again,” read the headline in Britain’s The Times. But editorialist Roger Boyes went on: “Not Belgium again, was the first, sad response to the tragedy in Dendermonde,” he wrote. “But the truth is that child abuse, infanticide and massacres have become part of the fabric of modern Europe and not just benighted Belgium with its paedophile rings. Children are now prime victims; while we have seemingly become more sophisticated over the past decade, kids have never been so vulnerable”.

The Independent pointed out Belgium’s history of child murders, including Natalie Mahy and Stacy Lemmens in Liège in 2006, the children of recently-convicted Geneviève Lhermitte in Nijvel and of course the victims of Dutroux.

Among those offering messages of condolence were the president of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus. “I wish the people of Belgium fortitude in this time of immense sorrow,” he wrote in a message addressed to the king.

Meanwhile, politicians at home also reacted. Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters spoke of his feelings of “disgust and deep sorrow”. Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy said the entire country was “in shock and in mourning for this terrible act of violence.” Family affairs minister Veerle Heeren, one of the first on the scene, said she was “shocked as a minister and as a mother”.

As Flanders Today went to press, Dendermonde prosecutor Christian Du Four announced that Kim De Gelder is now being investigated in connection with the murder earlier this month of a 73-year-old woman in Beveren. There are “strong indications” De Gelder may have been involved in the stabbing, Du Four said, but he declined to give details.

Dendermonde killer on suicide watch

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