Serial attacks, bad joke or collective psychosis? The mystery of nightclub injections still intrigues investigators

It would be the fashion aggression in night clubs, bars, concert halls: wild bites, inflicted casually on young revelers. Some say it felt like a pinch. Others, nothing at all. But they suddenly they find themselves overcome by nausea, headaches, dizziness, which sometimes lead to a seizure or even loss of consciousness. And then, after the discomfort, the discovery of a trace, as a “little mosquito bite”describes the Toulouse prosecutor, often surrounded by a hematoma.

Several departments are interested and the phenomenon is spreading from one city to another, generating an immense wave of concern, relayed on social networks and via the “Balance your bar” Instagram accounts, where anonymous people can post their testimonies.

The problem is taken very seriously, as the testimonies are numerous: in total, 130 investigations have been opened by the police, for facts spread throughout the territory, concerning mainly young women (representing 80% of the victims), specify the national police at franceinfo. The very first reports have been recorded since the summer of 2021. “But the phenomenon clearly gained momentum in March and especially in April 2022”, according to police data.

Nantes is the most affected city, with around fifty reports accumulated since mid-February, to such an extent that it was necessary to put in place a specific blood sampling procedure, in collaboration with the departmental directorate of public security of the Loire-Atlantic and the CHU. “If a patient shows signs of chemical submission, all physicians are advised to apply the same protocol to the emergency room, particularly examining if there is a lesion,” explains François Raffi, head of the infectious and tropical diseases department at the university hospital of Nantes. Of “wound”, the infectious specialist feels: trace of a possible bite.

In Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine), sixteen cases have been registered by the prosecution since 10 December. The Prosecutor of Grenoble (Isère), Eric Vaillant, has eighteen complaints and reports symptoms “more or less similar”as the “malaise, fainting, vomiting”he explains to franceinfo. “What surprised me is that it is always a fairly short discomfort: less than half an hour each time.”

In Béziers (Hérault), his colleague Raphaël Balland speaks “a lot of symptoms”not always identical. “Some victims describe fatigue, weakness, others speak of real discomfort”, describes the prosecutor. In her hometown, the vast majority of identified victims say they were attacked on the night of April 17-18, after which fourteen complaints were filed by seven girls and seven boys.

Dozens of cases have also been observed in Paris, Toulouse, Montélimar, Valence, Tours … “The presence of traces of one or more bites was attested on almost all the victims identified”, certifies the direction of the national police to franceinfo. This red dot is sometimes surrounded by a hematoma, “as if there had been a small blow”, describes François Raffi. These markings, images of which were shared widely on Instagram and TikTok, were found on the young victims’ arms, legs, back, neck, buttocks and thighs, sometimes under their clothing.

At present, cases are not centralized at the national level. Each parquet floor was then inserted locally. Police and gendarmes try “Finding information on video surveillance, collecting testimonials … They try to understand who we might be dealing with”details a police source. “We are hyper vigilant but waiting”Breathe.

Because the traces are still very thin, even almost non-existent. Part of the toxicological analyzes carried out on the victims are still “waiting for results”, emphasizes the national police. But most of the prosecutors interviewed have already received some of the conclusions. And sometimes everything, like in Grenoble, where nothing abnormal was found. Of the 18 complaints received, ten appraisals were carried out “about people who showed up in hospital in due time”explains the pm.

GHB, suspected from the start, has been ruled out for the time being. This molecule, nicknamed “the rape drug” for its effects on sleepiness, was not found in any of the samples. But GHB is very volatile and only locatable during “from four to six” in the blood and urine, emphasizes Nicolas Franchitto, drug addict of the CHU Purpan, in Toulouse. He regrets the shortcomings of screening kits – which he calls a “tidying kit” – used in the ER. “They detect the main substances, such as cocaine, cannabis, alcohol, opiates …” he details. But others can pass. Specialized laboratories, approved by the courts, carry out more in-depth analyzes, but are only accessible after filing a complaint, which further delays samples and the chances of finding certain substances.

Among other products that could be inoculated, the addict mentions the entire family “benzodiazepines”or “sedatives and anxiolytics” like Valium or Lexomil, “amnestic and sedative drugs that exist in liquid, colorless and painless form”. Investigators also suspect injections of adrenaline feathers, used to relieve allergies to insect bites. But this substance being naturally secreted by the human body, it is not detectable in the analyzes.

The authorities therefore urge you to remain very cautious in the event of negative sample returns. “The absence of traces detected cannot be interpreted as the absence of injection, it could be due to too late sampling”police insist on franceinfo.

The detection of toxins, however, would have been of great help in advancing the investigation and clarifying the motivations of possible authors. So far, no suspects have been arrested.

Therefore, no attempted sexual assault or rape was reported in the complaints. The prosecutor of Béziers, Raphaël Balland, does not really believe this reason. “We received an isolated complaint from a young girl, so in her case it would have been worth it. But for the fourteen victims targeted that same night, I don’t see the strategy of a sex offender, especially since these bites were identified quite shortly. period of time”analyze.

Also, only “some victims mentioned missing or stolen personal effects”, according to the police. The only certainty for the prosecutors questioned: there can be only one author, as the facts are too close in time. Biting attacks were reported, for example, the same night in Grenoble and Béziers. “It is possible that the attackers copy each other”believes Raphaël Balland. Unless he’s not “Anyone who wants to observe the effects in order to analyze them? Do you see the consequences of his gesture?” the public prosecutor from Béziers still advances, obviously perplexed.

“Is it to create psychosis, to hurt, to annoy others?”

Eric Vaillant, Grenoble public prosecutor

to franceinfo

“We don’t even know what the person is biting with!” stresses the specialist in infectious diseases of the university hospital of Nantes, François Raffi. However, he believes that it is a small object given the bites “very minimal”. “It can be a needle, a syringe, a syringe without a needle”lists the doctor, ensuring it can contain “flour, water … or nothing.”

An injection with an empty syringe? The hypothesis is not excluded by the investigators, assures Eric Vaillant, the prosecutor of Grenoble, specifying however that it is not their priority work path. “Victims may develop distress from anxiety”, decipher the magistrate. The possibility is also being studied by his colleague from Toulouse.

“It may be an empty needle, but the stress of the puncture in this context can cause nervous discomfort, accentuated by environmental stress, which would create an emotional shock.”

Samuel Vuelta-Simon, public prosecutor in Toulouse

to franceinfo

In addition, the bites were not systematically noted on each of the victims and “there is no experience on the sting itself”, he acknowledges. The gray areas are numerous and investigators may find it difficult to move towards tangible answers, like their colleagues across the Channel.

Because the same phenomenon occurred in the UK last autumn. In several cities, women said they were drugged without their knowledge with needle sticks. Many of them said they passed out before discovering a small wound on an area of ​​their body the next day, he says. The independent (article in English). But of the 274 reported cases, no attempts to inject drugs have been proven, Vice reports (article in English). In several British regions, police even indicated that some complainants had in fact not been the victims of any attacks. No sexual theft or assaults were reported.

Could the victims have misinterpreted the attacks they believe were the targets? This is one of the theses put forward by the Rennes prosecutor in a recent interview with France Bleu. Note that of the fifteen testimonies from people who claimed to have been stung, there were “feelings of discomfort” but their condition “has not been significantly changed”. “Is it someone who is unwell for another cause, such as alcohol or illicit products?” asks Philippe Astruc.

There remains the hypothesis of a crowd phenomenon in the face of intense media coverage of the testimonies. The general excitement is reminiscent of the cases of mutilated horses, which spread terror in the summer of 2020. A series of tracks had been studied by the authorities, up to the highest level in the state. The conclusions of the investigation revealed, to the surprise of farmers, that a minority of the facts reported were the result of human action, or “only” 84 cases out of over 500 reports registered in 2020.

Could we come to the same conclusions regarding nightclub bites? Is the phenomenon ultimately just a vast psychosis, fueled and amplified by its strong media coverage? Authorities and medical experts – generally skeptical – are very cautious.

“Health is an extremely sensitive topic. The rumors related to it are more easily conveyed and taken very seriously”, explains to franceinfo Mélusine Boon-Falleur, PhD student in cognitive sciences at ENS. On these matters, human beings can tend “to activate its supervisory system”, continues the researcher, taking up the metaphor of the fire alarm, “very effective” who “rings even for a piece of charred bread”. It is possible that this hypervigilance creates a certain over-interpretation in a context in which “it is easier to think that there is a problem where there is not, rather than the other way around”.

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