Gabriel Fortin goes on trial in Valence on Tuesday for shooting dead a Pôle emploi executive in the Drôme and the HR manager of a company in the Ardèche, both in January 2021. He is also accused of shooting two other human resources managers two days earlier in Haut-Rhin.
He has remained silent for over two years. Nicknamed the “HRD killer”, Gabriel Fortin is on trial from Tuesday June 13 in Valence, before the Drôme Assize Court, for the murders of Patricia Pasquion, 54, an executive in a Pôle emploi agency, and two HRDs, Estelle Luce, 39, and Géraldine Caclin, 51, as well as for the attempted murder of another HRD, Bertrand M. Will the accused, now 48, speak out during his trial? Will he explain the motives behind his murderous journey, which began on January 26, 2021 in the Haut-Rhin region of France, and ended two days later with his arrest in the middle of the Frédéric-Mistral bridge between the Drôme and Ardèche regions? Lawyers for the civil parties interviewed by franceinfo have little faith in this. “The possibility that he may refuse to appear is significant,” observes Hervé Gerbi, lawyer for Patricia Pasquion’s three sisters.
Gabriel Fortin remains mute. He refused to answer any questions while in police custody, then during questioning by the examining magistrate, as well as during all the interviews with the psychiatric experts. Nor did he take part in any of the re-enactments organized during the investigation. His lawyers are equally silent: they have not responded to any media requests, including those from franceinfo. Before the Assize Court, Gabriel Fortin has the right to remain silent once again, which will not prevent the hearing from continuing as planned, until June 30. “A refusal to appear won’t change anything. His trial can still take place under the right conditions, so that we can understand how he prepared himself,” explains Hervé Gerbi. It’s important to understand the man first, and then his actions.”
“Loner, introvert and paranoid”
The enigmatic personality of the “HRD killer” will be at the heart of the trial. According to information from franceinfo, his brother and mother will be the first witnesses expected on the first day. It was to them that the accused addressed two farewell letters, discovered at his home after the murders. The letters were laconic, with a similar formula and signature. However, Gabriel Fortin did not want his family to visit him in prison. Since January 30, 2021, he has been living “his detention in a particularly solitary and isolated manner”, according to the indictment, which franceinfo has seen. His brother has written to him, but Gabriel Fortin has not followed up. Among the many handwritten notes found in his cell, the investigators unearthed a letter written to his mother, which finally remained in draft form. In it, he expressed “various grievances” towards her.
Prior to his imprisonment, Gabriel Fortin and his mother had been in regular contact. They saw each other a few days before the murders he is accused of committing. She told investigators she “found him depressed and felt he was ‘at his wits’ end”. “When he left, he was sobbing”, she added. She also described a “solitary” son, who rarely went out and remained discreet about his personal life. An avid glider pilot and marksman, he legally owned two handguns.
Gabriel Fortin was raised by his mother, with his brother, two years older, in Nancy. The boy was not recognized by his father, who returned to his native Gabon shortly after his birth. His brother, like all those who knew him, speaks of the accused as an “introverted” man, with whom he was not very close. He also claims that, like their mother, he is “a bit of a paranoid conspiracy nut”, and that he thinks he is being followed in the street. Gabriel Fortin’s tendency towards mistrust is omnipresent, and is corroborated by the investigations. For example, investigators found a note in which he wrote that he was convinced there was a GPS tracking device in his car.
The “cold revenge” of an “intelligent man”.
The family and the investigators are not the only ones to note this: psychiatric experts also consider that the accused has a “paranoid personality”. However, the doctors, who provide an analysis based on Gabriel Fortin’s file rather than on his statements, consider that “the acts reproached are not related to a mental disorder”. According to them, they are the result of “the cold, determined vengeance of an intelligent man, wounded by unbearable rejection by the only milieu he thought could provide him with a place in society”.
“He chose (…) to make known to the world his deeply felt experience of injustice”, says clinical psychologist Nicolas Estano, interviewed in journalist Marion Dubreuil’s “Tueur de DRH” podcast. However, the forensic expert is astonished by Gabriel Fortin’s silence, even though, in his opinion, a paranoid personality “often” has a vindictive side. “The person wants to explain to you why they did it,” he explains. But, as the psychologist points out, Gabriel Fortin has chosen to put words on paper rather than speak them: “He speaks through his writings, which make it possible to reconstruct his life path.”
Not words, but writings
In prison, the former engineer, unemployed at the height of the economic crisis in the 2000s, filled in numerous sheets of paper and a notepad. In these notes, which the investigators collected and which France Bleu Drôme Ardèche was able to consult, is a letter written by Géraldine C., the human resources manager at Faun Environnement, who was shot dead in cold blood on the company’s premises in Guilherand-Granges (Ardèche). Gabriel Fortin entered the premises at 9 a.m. on January 28, 2021. He had been laid off from Faun Environnement after working there as an engineer for two years. And Géraldine C. had signed his letter of dismissal. The accused comments on this letter, which he says he received on Christmas Eve in 2009: “Will to bring me to my knees + will to humiliate. Faun: the letter sent on December 24!!!”. In another note, Gabriel Fortin describes himself as “doomed to social minima due to inactions of justice”.
The “HRD killer” doesn’t talk, but he doesn’t stop writing, and not just in his cell. Numerous texts were extracted from his computer equipment. The investigators noted in particular this sentence: “Fear must change sides.” Exploitation of the computer files also revealed “a great deal of bitterness about the reasons for and circumstances of his dismissal”, which followed a previous one in 2006 in Eure-et-Loir. At the time, Gabriel Fortin had been working in Gallardon for two years, as an engineer in the design office of Francel, a company restructured after its takeover by an American group.
From Alsace to Ardèche, the itinerary of Gabriel Fortin, unemployed engineer prosecuted for murdering a HR director
His writings also make it possible to trace his movements in detail: the accused made trips to locate the premises of Pôle emploi in Valence, where he shot the advisor Patricia Pasquion. The investigation established that he had been registered with this agency between 2010 and 2013. Four months before his murder, he also went to the Knauf parking lot in Wolfgantzen (Haut-Rhin), where he opened fire on Estelle Luce, the company’s HR director, on January 26, 2021. Investigations revealed that Estelle Luce and Bertrand M. had both conducted the interview for Gabriel Fortin’s dismissal at Francel.
The investigations also uncovered other revenge plans that remained unfinished. How far did Gabriel Fortin intend to go? According to the indictment, he agreed to write rare messages to the examining magistrate at the start of his incarceration, in which he spoke of a “shattered life” that unemployment benefits could not repair.
“It’s contemptuous not to speak out”
“You can’t kill someone just because of their job, because they might have done something wrong. It’s unacceptable,” insists Géraldine C.’s son Augustin, who spoke to France 3 Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes before the trial. The young man, who has just come of age, fears that “extenuating circumstances” will be found for the accused, on the pretext that he has experienced “unfair situations in the world of work”. “If he’s here to sully the memory of the people he killed, I’d rather he kept his mouth shut,” adds the high-school student, who doesn’t expect much from Gabriel Fortin. The same is true of Estelle Luce’s daughters and their father. “It’s contemptuous not to speak out, but we can’t force him to talk”, points out their lawyer Jean-Marc Muller-Thomann, who acts as their spokesman.
For Patricia Pasquion’s sisters, the situation is a little different. Investigations have not established any direct link between the Pôle emploi advisor and Gabriel Fortin. However, the investigating magistrate pointed out that the unemployed engineer, who had been receiving benefits for several years, “seemed to harbor a certain resentment towards the institutions”. The magistrate deduced that “it is therefore possible, even probable, that Gabriel Fortin symbolically targeted the Pôle emploi agency, embodied in this instance by Patricia Pasquion”. Why else would he target it? “That’s the only question my customers would like to have answered,” comments Hervé Gerbi, who points out that “Patricia Pasquion doesn’t fit the profile of the other murder victims”.
“A judicial truth will emerge from the hearing. But for my clients, it’s important that they find their own truth”, continues the lawyer for the three women, who were very close to their sister. They want to be “actors in the trial, not spectators”, he asserts. That’s why, in consultation with them, he called ten witnesses in addition to those designated by the prosecutor. “Some witnesses knew Gabriel Fortin before he committed the act. We also called the examining magistrate, because only she has an overall view of the case,” explains Hervé Gerbi. “We’re trying to understand who Gabriel Fortin is,” insists the lawyer. With the accused facing life imprisonment, Hervé Gerbi stresses that his clients, “without any spirit of vengeance”, expect “a strong punishment”. “In any case, it will never be equal to their sentence.