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A MAT-49 submachine gun. This is the same type of gun used by a French man to commit suicide, as reported in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. (Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. National Park Service via Wikimedia Commons)

The man had himself a shooting session in his neighborhood in eastern France—and then barricaded himself in his home as he waited for the police to inevitably arrive. An elite unit of the French gendarmerie, the “Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale,” negotiated with the man for 24 hours before they heard multiple gunshots from within the home.

The officers burst into the house, and found the man cross-legged on the floor, his back to a bed, collapsed on his right side. He was dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

There was also a submachine gun next to the body, report the pathologists from the Centre hospitalier regional et universitaire de Nancy, in the latest Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Suicide was the manner of death, according to the findings.

“The multiplicity of entrance wounds in our case may appear suspicious at first glance, but combining the scene examination, the autopsy results (localization, direction of trajectories, range of fire) and the ballistic expertise, we were able to conclude that the death was a suicide,” the death investigators conclude.

The submachine gun was a MAT-49, made right after World War II in the arms factory at Tulle. It could only be fired in burst mode, according to the investigators. The safety—on the grip of the man’s weapon—was taped down.

Four full metal jacket Parabellum rounds had been shot from the weapon, they write. Three hit the victim—and a fourth was found in the ceiling behind the body.

The investigators used full post-mortem computer tomography (CT) scans to determine the damage.

The three shots that hit the victim had different angles and trajectories. The first penetrated the left side of the sternum, crossed the aorta and left lung, and left through the back. The second was higher, entering the jugular notch to the sternum, blasting past the trachea and the seventh cervical vertebrae—and was left lodged in the body. The third was the highest, entering under the chin, before fracturing the hyoid bone and entering the left occipital lobe of the brain, exiting through the back of the skull.

The first and third gunshot wounds were considered lethal—but the exact cause of death could not be pinpointed because the investigators determined the shots had been inflicted at practically the same instant.

Based on the entrance wounds, the first shot was a contact or near-contact gunshot—and the two others were near-contact.

Put together, the recoil of the submachine gun’s burst mode apparently explains the location of the four bullets, conclude the pathologists.

“The first trajectory was almost horizontal and the two other were more and more directed obliquely upwards,” writes the CHRU Nancy team. “The fourth projectile was found in the ceiling, behind the body. These change in trajectory could be explained by the recoil of the weapon, although we have not found any similar case in the literature to support this hypothesis.”

The death investigation results were originally presented at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting this past February in Seattle. 

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