Belgium Grieves for Slain Young Girls

The Associated Press
Thursday, June 29, 2006; 2:49 PM

LIEGE, Belgium -- Townspeople placed lit candles, white roses and teddy bears alongside railroad tracks near a spot where two girls were found slain, and parliament canceled its session Thursday as Belgium expressed grief and shock over the killings.

The bodies of 7-year-old Stacy Lemmens and her 10-year-old stepsister, Nathalie Mahy, were found Wednesday in a storm sewer covered by thick undergrowth beside the rail line after an 18-day search.

The authorities said they had completed preliminary autopsies of the victims but did not immediately release the results.

"We don't want to compromise the investigation," prosecutor Anne Bourguignon said.

Belgian news reports, citing unidentified officials, said the girls were strangled. Asked about a broadcast report that one was raped, police and prosecutors declined to comment.

A convicted child rapist, Abdallah Aid Oud, 39, has been charged with the girls' kidnapping. He has been charged with the girls' kidnapping and has been held by police since turning himself in June 13, and a court ruled that he must remain in jail. He denies involvement, and his lawyers argue there is no evidence linking him to the case.

As the remembrances of the girls were placed near the railroad tracks, classes were canceled at their school. Parliament canceled its weekly question-and-answer session.

The killings revived painful memories for Belgians of a similar case. A convicted pedophile, Marc Dutroux, abducted two 8-year-olds, Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, from a Liege street in 1995 and held them for months before allowing them to starve to death locked in a basement while he served time for a minor offense.

Stacy and Nathalie disappeared June 10 from a late-night street party where they went with Nathalie's mother, Catherine Dizier, the partner of Stacy's father. The girls were last seen when they left a cafe while Dizier stayed behind inside.

The girls' parents visited the morgue Thursday in this gritty eastern steel town where authorities carried out the autopsies.

In the light of the killings, the European Union's top justice official urged countries to step up efforts against pedophilia and child pornography. Speaking in Brussels, EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said the European Commission is to adopt a charter on children's rights next week.

"I think the whole of Europe has to voice its outrage and horror at the murder of the two children here in Belgium, and we can only hope that the police and judicial inquiries under way will quickly bring the guilty person or persons to justice," Frattini said.

© 2006 The Associated Press