Minute of silence for slain teacher in southwest France

French schools were set Thursday to hold a nationwide minute of silence for a teacher stabbed to death the previous day by one of her pupils with no apparent motive.

Pupils on Thursday morning brought flowers including white roses in memory of the victim, 52-year-old Agnes Lassalle, to the Saint Thomas Aquinas middle and secondary school in the southwestern seaside town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Lassalle had been a "good listener", a "very kind teacher", said Rudy, a middle school pupil who had a class with her last year.

"It's important to be here for her family, those close to her, her pupils," he added, saying "we have to lend strength to those who witnessed" the attack.

"It's going to be a tough day, I'm still very upset," said one teaching assistant who asked not to be named.

Education Minister Pap Ndiaye had on Wednesday travelled to Saint-Jean-de-Luz to hail the "exceptionally dedicated" teacher.

Lassalle's partner told broadcaster BFMTV that she had spent "at least 80 to 90 percent of her time working for her school, even during the holidays".

The 16-year-old male suspect held by police had no criminal record, prosecutors said Wednesday, promising an update on Thursday afternoon after the 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) minute of silence.

Sources close to the investigation told AFP that the boy had been "speaking incoherently" and had "known mental health problems".

"What we know for sure is that no obvious motive has been identified" for the killing, government spokesman Olivier Veran told broadcaster France Inter.

Ines, a 16-year-old schoolgirl who was in Lassalle's class Wednesday, said that the suspect approached the teacher and "plunged a big knife into her chest without saying anything".

Psychologists have been sent to the school to care for the students who witnessed the attack, as well as two other high school classes.

Such attacks at schools are generally rare in France but there have been growing concerns about the security of teachers.

The attack in Saint-Jean-de-Luz is the first killing of a teacher in France since the October 2020 beheading of Samuel Paty outside Paris by an Islamist radical.

In July 2014, a 34-year-old teacher was stabbed to death in the southern town of Albi by the mother of a pupil. The perpetrator was later found to be legally irresponsible.

A Jewish school was targeted in the attacks carried out by Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah around Toulouse in 2012, with a teacher and three pupils shot dead.