As a soldier in the French army, Beltrame served in Iraq and was made a Knight of the National Order of Merit, and was decorated with the Cross for Military Valour. After his army service, he became a policeman, and rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the French National Gendarmerie — a branch of the French military that performs domestic police services in rural areas, complementing the civilian Police Nationale. On March 23, 2018, there was a series of terrorist attacks in the towns of Carcassonne and Trèbes in southern France by a lone gunman who declared he was a soldier of the Islamic state. The terrorist ended up cornered in a grocery store in Trèbes, where he took hostages, armed with a gun, a hunting knife, and several bombs. Beltrame, a counterterrorism specialist, was one of the first police officers to arrive. Most of the 50 people in the market managed to escape as officers surrounded the building. The coward had used a woman as a human shield, so Beltrame offered to swap places with the one remaining hostage — a woman who worked at the store. The terrorist agreed.
After a terrorist attack at a Paris supermarket in 2015, Beltrame suspected such a tactic would be used again, and trained in several supermarket terrorist scenarios. “A mass killing took place in a supermarket. This is the only information that was given to the police,” he said in a newspaper interview after the training. “We want to be closer to real conditions, so there is no pre-established scenario.” Before going in to swap places with the civilian hostage, Beltrame used his mobile phone to call the incident command post, and left the line open so other officers could hear what was going on inside. During a three-hour stand-off, they could hear Beltrame trying to negotiate with the French-Moroccan terrorist who had already killed three people — and then they heard Beltrame being stabbed and shot. Troops stormed the store and engaged the terrorist in a gunfight, killing him. Beltrame was hospitalized in serious condition. Beltrame’s mother said she was “not surprised” her son would swap places with a hostage. “He has always been like that,” she said: “someone who, since he was born, was doing everything for his country. He would say to me, ‘I’m doing my job, Mom. That’s all.’” Beltrame, who had been planning to get married in June, married his fiancée, Marielle, in the hospital the next day. Three hours later, on March 24, he died, at 44.