A middle-aged man with a history of family problems shot himself dead Thursday in a Paris primary school near the Eiffel Tower, in front of about a dozen stunned children.
The man, who was not affiliated with the school, forced his way into the institution in central Paris at 11:30 am (0930 GMT), pushing aside two adults who tried to stop him, Francois Weil, the city's top educational official said.
A police source said the man, who is in his 50s, had a history of family violence and entered the reception area of the school from an adjoining building and not the main entrance.
Earlier reports from police put him in his 60s and said the incident took place in a nursery school.
The man, who was in an agitated state, had some papers with him and a sawn-off shotgun, which he then fired from under his jaw. A part of his face was blown off.
"I heard a shot. I saw all the blood. I saw the man. I saw the man fall back when he shot himself. It was horrible," a schoolgirl told France's Europe 1 radio.
A psychological support team was sent to the school. Police are investigating the motive for the suicide, which came as children were leaving for their lunch break.
The La Rochefoucauld school is a private Catholic institution that also has primary and secondary sections. It is located on rue Cler in the city's fashionable 7th district, also home to several embassies.
A boy who witnessed the gruesome suicide told Europe 1 he thought "terrorists had come into the school with pistols.
"Many others cried like me. I was very scared."
Paris's Socialist Mayor Bernard Delanoe expressed his "great sadness" at the incident and his "whole-hearted support for the little Parisians who were present" at the site of the tragedy.
The mother of a student criticised security measures at the school, saying there was only one woman who monitored and controlled visitors to the school.
"Blood had to spill before security measures were undertaken," she told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Delanoe's deputy Anne Hidalgo, who is running for the mayor's job when he steps down next year, visited the school and said there had been a "rapid reaction" to the crisis.
But Rachida Dati from the right-wing UMP party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the mayor of the 7th district, said "the drama would not have unfolded... if the man had not been allowed to enter."
Education Minister Vincent Peillon cut short a visit to Brussels and visited the school on Thursday afternoon.