French prosecutor refuses to reopen probe into Solar Temple cult deaths

A French prosecutor's office rejected a request to reopen an investigation into the 1995 murder-suicide of 16 members of the Order of the Solar Temple doomsday group, a lawyer said Thursday.

The Grenoble prosecutor's office said there was no new evidence to justify reopening the inquiry, said Alain Leclerc, a lawyer who had made the request on behalf of the families of some of the victims.

In 1995, French police discovered the charred remains of 14 victims, including three children, in a forest clearing near Grenoble in the French Alps. The 14 bodies were arranged in a star formation. Two other bodies were found nearby.

The victims included Patrick Vuarnet, a son of Olympic ski champion and sunglasses tycoon Jean Vuarnet; his girlfriend and their child.

Investigators said police officer Jean-Pierre Lardanchet and Swiss architect Andre Friedli fatally shot the others, doused the bodies with gasoline and set them afire before killing themselves. Autopsies showed that most had taken sleep-inducing drugs.

The Vuarnets, who were among family members that wanted the investigation reopened, believe that someone from outside the group was responsible for the deaths. It recently commissioned a private report that it claims is proof the bodies were burned with a flame-thrower.

Alain Vuarnet, whose mother and brother were among the victims, said he regretted the decision by the prosecutor's office, saying it "didn't want to look into a different version of the events that has never been the subject of a deeper investigation."

The Order of the Solar Temple lost 58 members in mass suicides in Switzerland and Quebec between 1994 and 1997.