On Sunday, September 17, four Boston College juniors were attacked with hydrochloric acid while traveling in southern France. The incident, which occurred around 11 A.M., took place in the Marseille-St. Charles train station, and was committed by a mentally-unstable woman. Two of the juniors were injured in the attack, though they are making a full recovery. Meanwhile, the students have been lauded for expressing their compassion towards their attacker, whose illness, said one, “should not be villainized.”
All four juniors are currently studying abroad in Europe (three in France, and one in Denmark). While at the train station, the 41-year-old suspect sprayed them with an acidic solution, causing two of the young women to suffer burns. The response from authorities was swift and thorough, with more than a dozen emergency vehicles arriving at the scene; furthermore, the U.S. consulate in Marseille was in contact with the victims after the incident. The students’ injuries were not life-threatening, and Boston College stated they were “doing well.”
The media response to the attack was also extensive. Following Sunday’s events, the story was picked up by major publications, including the New York Times. Several news agencies interviewed Boston College students.
Some of the media panic may be attributed to the rash of recent global terrorist activities. Europe remains on high alert after attacks in various countries, including Spain, Belgium, and Germany, with France suffering some of the most deadly incidents. On July 14, 2016, an attack in the city of Nice killed 86 people; Nice, like Marseille, is also on the southern French coast. In April of 2017, French police reportedly thwarted an imminent terrorist plot in Marseille. These violent acts and close calls led the U.S. Department of State to issue a travel alert for Europe, advising visitors to the area to remain cautious and perhaps reconsider their itineraries. Media attention around European incidents has become immediate, as the question of terrorism remains in the forefront.
French police were quick to emphasize, however, that the Marseille attack was not an act of terrorism. The mentally-ill suspect did not make extremist threats, and had a history of psychiatric instability that police believe prompted the attack. Two of the BC students, Michelle Krug and Courtney Silverling, made statements about the woman’s mental illness, calling for compassion.
“Please consider…praying for our attacker so that she may receive the help she needs and deserves,” wrote Krug on the day of the attack. “Mental illness is not a choice and should not be villainized.”
Silverling quoted Psalm 91 and asked God to protect the health of her attacker. “I pray that the attacker would be healed from her mental illness in the name of Jesus,” she wrote. “…And [that she would] receive the forgiveness and salvation that can only come from Him.”
The two injured students are recovering, and will continue to study in Europe.