A promising teenage professional footballer tipped as a future international was ‘executed by gangsters involved in a drugs war’, French prosecutors believe.
William Gomis, 19 and until recently on the books of Ligue 1 giants St Etienne, ‘died instantly’ while sitting in a car on the notorious Berthe council estate, in the suburbs of Toulon.
An unnamed 14-year-old youth, originally from eastern Europe, was sitting next to him before both succumbed to machine gun fire in the early hours of Monday.
‘It was almost certainly a settling of scores taking place in the context of a drugs war,’ said an investigating source based in the Mediterranean coastal city.
‘A gang of youths wearing black balaclavas and using a variety of weapons including AK-47s got out of another car and then opened fire.
‘Mr Gomis was killed instantly, while the second victim was rushed to hospital by the emergency services where he died a few hours later.’
Some 24 spent gun cartridges were found in the vicinity of the crime scene following the shooting at around 12.25am in La Seyne-sur-Mer, a suburb of Toulon.
The Berthe, where Gomis was brought up in a family originally from Senegal, is one of its most notorious estates.
Rioting is commonplace, and civil servants and police have recently reported a huge increase in crime connected to the drugs trade.
Bernard Marchal, the Toulon Prosecutor, said other members of Gomis’s family, including a younger brother, had been targeted in a similar fashion in recent weeks.
‘Everything is being done to find those responsible,’ said Mr Marchal, who said judicial police from Marseille were assisting with the enquiry.
Marc Vuillemot, the Socialist mayor of Seyne meanwhile said: ‘If I am saddened and full of compassion towards the family and other loved ones of the victims, I’m also mad with rage.’
Like other local officials, Mr Vuillemot described Gomis as a ‘hugely popular’ footballer who might have represented France or Senegal one day.
Gomes, a defender, first signed a contract with St-Etienne when he was 15, and went on to captain their B-team.
He did not renew his contract over the summer, and the club authorities now believe this decision by the player may have been based on troubles in his personal life.
During his time at St-Etienne, Gomis became particularly close to former Swansea and France striker Bafetimbi Gomis, who now plays for Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal.
Many thought the pair were relatives, but they in fact simply shared the same surname ‘and were very close,’ said a St-Etienne source.
‘The club’s management, coaches, players and other employees are deeply affected by William’s sudden death and offer their deepest sympathies to his family,’ a club statement read.
Gomis never made his senior debut for St-Etienne, but represented the B-team 18 times last season, and captained the side.
Team-mate Anthony Maisonnial said: ‘I am shocked and especially sad. When I was told I thought I was having a nightmare.
‘All our moments and delights we have spent together will remain forever in my memory. Today, my brother, you set off on the big journey.
‘My prayers go out to you. May God open the doors to paradise. I’m crying as I say, I love you my brother.’