Monday, December 20, 2004 Posted: 3:49 AM EST (0849 GMT)
PARIS, France (AP) -- France's health minister is calling for hospitals and police to work more closely after two hospital nurses were found slain -- one decapitated and the other with her throat slit -- at a psychiatric facility.
The killings in the idyllic southwestern town of Pau shocked France, and hospitals across the country were to observe a moment of silence Monday to honor the two murdered women.
Investigators released five men who had been brought in the day before for questioning -- one of them a former hospital patient who the media had said was the prime suspect.
State prosecutor Eric Maurel denied that, telling The Associated Press that "no evidence has been found against him at this stage."
The two nurses were aged 40 and 48, both married and mothers of children.
Their bodies were found at daybreak Saturday in the hospital's geriatric ward, where a shattered window indicated a possible break-in, Maurel said.
The men who were questioned ranged from 30 to 40 years old and were drunk when arrested, Maurel said. One of them had called police the night before the bodies were found with "information about a violent scenario," Maurel said. He and three others at his home were questioned.
A judicial probe was to be opened early in the week, he said.
Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy held an urgent meeting Sunday with health workers and Interior Ministry officials, the Health Ministry said.
"All emergency services, but also psychiatric services, must be linked directly to police stations," Douste-Blazy told reporters after the meeting.
Union leaders faulted a staff and funding shortage. They said security had been a problem for months, dozens of jobs were to be cut, and violence at the hospital was a common occurrence.
"It is horror, terror, fear, disgust -- fear of returning to work," Cathy Sanders, a regional official from Worker's Front union, told RTL radio. "Last night, the staff was doubled" as a precaution, she said.
A front-page headline on Sunday newspaper Journal du Dimanche read: "Scenes of hospital horror."
Pau is known as a charming town of sunny skies, gardens and palm trees, nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees. As the birthplace of Henri IV, this year-round tourist destination is as popular among history buffs as it is among winter sports enthusiasts.
Douste-Blazy said last week that he would present a mental health reform package by March.