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Man commits suicide inside Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral

Yoan Valat/EPA

Notre Dame Cathedral is evacuated by the police in Paris on May 21, 2013.

A man committed suicide inside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Tuesday, prompting the clearing out of hundreds of tourists, who had been waiting in a snaking line to visit the 850-year-old landmark.

Before pulling a gun and shooting himself in the head, the elderly man placed a letter on the altar, The Associated Press reported. Its contents were not known.

The man said nothing before he pulled the trigger, Reuters reported. He died just after 4 p.m. local time.

Europe 1 radio and French media identified the man as 78-year-old Dominique Venner, an activist and historian known in France for his far-right political essays.

A May 21 post on Venner's blog criticized a law passed last week allowing same-sex marriage.

Monsignor Patrick Jacquin, the cathedral's rector, told the AP this was the first suicide in decades at the historic site.

"It's unfortunate, it's dramatic, it's shocking," Jacquin told the AP. The motives for the suicide were unclear.

Police evacuated visitors out of the cathedral after the shooting, the AP reported, in an unusual move for a landmark site visited by about 13 million people every year.

NBC News' Nancy Ing in Paris contributed to this report.