French President Emmanuel Macron posthumously awarded on Wednesday the Legion of Honor, the highest award in France, to a French police officer who traded himself for a hostage during an attack Friday on a French supermarket.
“To accept to die so the innocent can live, that is the essence of what it means to be a soldier. Others, even many who are brave, would have hesitated,” Macron said during the ceremony.
Last Friday morning, an armed man shot at police, then drove to a Super U supermarket in Trebes, France, where he held hostages from 11 a.m. to around 3 p.m. local time. During this standoff, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame volunteered to be exchanged for a female cashier being held hostage inside.
While he was being held hostage, he managed to keep his phone on so that police could hear what was happening inside the building. Beltrame was shot in the neck by his captor before police stormed the building, and died from his injuries a few hours later.
The gunman, a Moroccan-born French national who was already known to authorities, also killed three other people before police managed to kill him. Macron referred to the gunman in his speech today as a "jihadist terrorist."
What happened at the ceremony?
At the ceremony in Paris, Macron said that Beltrame symbolized “the spirit of French resistance.”
Former French presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy were also in attendance.
Beltrame was an outspoken Catholic. A priest who knew Beltrame well, Father Jean-Baptiste, said that Beltrame had come from a family of non-practicing Catholics, but decided to commit himself to his faith when he was nearly 33 years old in 2008.
Beltrame was engaged to be married at the time of his death. His mother said that when she heard that a police officer had exchanged himself for a hostage, she “knew it was him,” adding that “he’s always been like that.”
Father Dominique Arz, the chaplain for the gendarmerie (armed French police), told the French magazine Famille Chrétienne (via The Catholic Herald): “It turns out that the lieutenant-colonel was a practicing Catholic. The fact is that he did not hide his faith, and that he radiated it, he bore witness to it. We can say that his act of self-offering is consistent with what he believed. He served his country to the very end, and bore witness to his faith to the very end.”