Flags were flown at half-mast in gendarme stations across France as the country honoured the officer declared a national hero by President Emmanuel Macron after he swapped himself for a hostage and was killed by an Islamist gunman.
“Arnaud Beltrame died in the service of the nation to which he had already given so much,' Mr Macron said. 'In giving his life to end the deadly plan of a jihadi terrorist, he fell as a hero.'
The 45-year-old Lieutenant Colonel in the gendarmerie died in hospital overnight from gun wounds after he offered himself in exchange for a hostage held by an attacker holed up in a supermarket in the southwestern town of Trèbes on Friday.
Unbeknownst to his Morocco-born captor, who had by then killed three people in a shooting spree and wounded 16 more, he left his mobile phone on so police outside could hear what was happening inside the store.
They stormed the building when they heard gunfire and shot dead the hostage-taker. But Mr Beltrame was wounded in the intervention and died hours later.
Tributes to the dead officer, who first took his place among the elite police special forces in 2003 and was decorated in 2007 after serving in Iraq, flooded in on Saturday morning as the country woke to the news of his death.
The president was among the first to respond, with a long statement listing the gendarme’s glittering career - which included four years handling security at the Elysée - and saying he “deserved the respect and admiration of the entire nation.”
The officer’s name was the top trending hashtag on the French edition of Twitter, with members of the public in France and around the world paying tribute to what many of them called a “true hero.”
The name of the 25-year-old Islamist hostage-taker, Redouane Lakdim, who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, was the second most used term on Twitter.
It was General Richard Lizurey, the director general of the national gendarmerie, who ordered the French tricolour to be flown at half-mast at stations across the country, saying he wanted to pay “solemn homage to the heroism of our comrade.”
Locals placed flowers on the ground outside the barracks in the town of Carcassonne where Mr Beltrame was based.
“He gave his life for someone else, for a stranger,” said the officer’s brother Cédric. “He departed as a hero.”
Mr Beltrame’s mother, speaking late on Friday while her son was still fighting for his life in hospital, said that when she heard the news that a gendarme had swapped himself for a hostage, she immediately “knew it was him.”
“He’s always been like that. He is someone… who would do anything for his country,” she said.
Mr Beltrame, who was married with no children, graduated from France’s elite Saint-Cyr military academy in 1999.
He later trained for the elite GIGN police force that specialises in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue, and at one point trained to become a military freefall parachutist, a type of high-altitude parachuting most often carried out by special forces.
He worked as an advisor at the ecology ministry for three years before going back to field work last year in the Aude region where his final - and fatal - intervention took place on Friday.
Mr Beltrame had organised a training session in the region in December for just such a hostage situation.
At the time, he armed his officers with paintball guns, according to Depeche du Midi, the local newspaper.
'We want to be as close to real conditions as possible,' he said then.
Investigators probing Friday’s attack will focus on establishing how the gunman, who was known to police for petty crime and drug dealing, got his weapon and how he became radicalised.
Two people have been detained over alleged links with a terrorist enterprise, one woman close to Lakdim and one friend of his, a 17-year-old male, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.