The honorary British consul in Toulouse, originally from the West Midlands, has spoken of his “shock and horror” at the attack on a rabbi and three children.
Rabbi Johnathan Sandler, 30, his two young sons and another child were the victims of what was feared to be the latest in a string of racist murders.
The killings at Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse on Monday were carried out with the same heavy calibre .45 automatic pistol used in two attacks in which three soldiers of North African and Caribbean origin were murdered in the region last week.
The region around the southern French city is said to be home to an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 British people, including students, Airbus employees and retirees.
Many were shaken by the chilling act of violence.
Roger Virnuls, the honorary British consul in Toulouse, described the struggle among members of the expatriate community to grasp what had happened.
“People still don’t understand it,” he said. “They are genuinely in shock. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it at all other than we suspect it’s the same guy who carried out the other attacks.
“The words to sum up the reaction here are shock and horror. It’s beyond belief.”
Originally from the West Midlands, Mr Virnuls now lives just outside Toulouse and described it as a safe kind of place.
“It’s an area where you can walk around safely at night, and do,” he said. “There are areas you would want to avoid, as in any city, but it’s a vibrant place, it’s a student city.
“I was walking around there with my wife one night last week and we didn’t feel any pressure or aggression at all.
“Nobody would suggest you shouldn’t walk around there at night because it’s not safe.”
The different nationalities living side by side in the area got on “extremely well” together and provided support to each other, he added.
David Williams, president of the British International Business Network Toulouse, said there had been a “massive” reaction to the attack among the British community in the city, which he too characterised as one of “shock and horror”.
He said: “No-one really knows what’s behind it. Is it a race attack or is it something else? Let’s hope they get the guy really quickly before something else happens.”
Security at local schools had been stepped up in the wake of the incident, including around the International School of Toulouse, where a number of British children are educated, added Mr Williams, who is originally from Liverpool.
“Toulouse has a huge international population,” he went on. “There are not just Britons here but also Germans, Spanish, Italians and others. Normally you wouldn’t expect something like this to happen here.
“It’s generally very calm. But I expect there will be increased vigilance now. I’ll certainly look out for anybody on a scooter wearing a helmet with a visor. I would say from the reaction of my friends that they’re certainly going to be more vigilant too.”
Gill Ratcliffe, a member of the Toulouse Women’s International Group who has been living in the city for 11 years, described the crime as “terrible”.
“I’d have thought people will be more on their guard now,” she said.
The 49-year-old beauty therapist, originally from near Newcastle, said she had never experienced any problems since moving abroad.
“It’s generally quite safe to walk around here,” she said. “It’s a very friendly place.”