Girl, 4, found alive under bodies in U.K.-registered BMW in French Alps

Gendarmes block access to a murder scene near Chevaline, in the French Alps, Sept. 5, 2012.
AP Photo/Alexis Moro

Updated at 12:55 p.m. ET

(AP) ANNECY, France - French authorities struggled Thursday to explain why no one found a 4-year-old child for eight hours at a blood-strewn crime scene as she huddled in a car under the skirt of a corpse — apparently her dead mother or grandmother.

The stunning discovery Thursday of the girl, apparently unharmed, heightened the drama around a mysterious shooting rampage in the French Alps that left four adults dead and a 7-year-old girl hospitalized after being shot and brutally beaten.

A day after a cyclist came across the corpses in a wooded area near the mountain village of Chevaline, investigators said the reason for the killing remains unclear.

Prosecutor Eric Maillaud said investigators were searching for possible perpetrators and studying all possibilities, including a score-settling attack or simply that the family was "in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The two young girls, who police said were sisters, were under police care. The prosecutor warned there may still be a killer or killers on the loose seeking to "get rid of" witnesses to the "scene of immense savagery."

"The girl was found totally immobile in fact on the floor of the vehicle, behind the front passenger-side seat, under the legs — under the skirt — of one of the women who were killed, around a large travel bag, totally invisible and silent — which explains why no one saw her before," Maillaud said.

French authorities took pains to avoid identifying the six people found in and around a BMW at the wooded site. The bodies of a man and two women were in the car, and the body of an unrelated male French cyclist was found on the ground nearby. The two girls were found alive.

Maillaud said the car was registered to a British man born in Baghdad in 1962. He said the man who had lived in London for a decade and his family had been vacationing in France since August, camping on nearby Lake Annecy. The driver was identified by the Sipa news agency as Saad al Hilli, a resident of a London suburb.

Sky News, citing neighbors in the British town of Claygate, identified his wife as Iqbal, the 7-year-old as Zehab and the 4-year-old as Zeinab. Sky quoted neighbor George Aicolina as saying Saad al Hilli was an engineer who was "very much in love with his two girls."

Sweden confirmed that one of the victims was Swedish. French authorities found a Swedish passport that appears to be that of an older woman slain in the car, born in 1938, as well as an Iraqi passport.