Police and mountain rescue teams were searching a stretch of road and river overnight for the missing five-year-old girl April Jones as her devastated family pleaded for her to be returned home to them.
A man believed to be known to her family, but not a relative, was arrested yesterday afternoon in connection with her abduction.
The Dyfed Powys force said it had been searching for the 46-year-old man – who has been named locally as Mark Bridger – before a patrol picked him up. He was walking by the road less than 24 hours after the girl was apparently enticed into a vehicle from her estate in Machynlleth in Wales.
Tests were also being conducted on the man's Land Rover Discovery. Police said his vehicle was similar to one seen by children who were playing with April before she apparently willingly got in before being driven away at about 7pm on Monday from the former council estate of Bryn-y-Gog.
Police last night read out a statement from April's family. It said: "Our lives were shattered when our beautiful little girl April, who was playing with friends, was taken from us. We are devastated and our lives have stopped. Please, please if you have our little girl, let her come home to us."
A 12-mile stretch of road, close to a fast-flowing river, was sealed off amid intensified searches of the area.
Police confirmed they had been looking closely at the movements of known sex offenders living in the area but senior officers declined to be drawn last night on whether the man was on that list.
However, it appeared that suspicions about the man had been raised. "We knew he was in the area, we've been anxious to trace him and speak to him," said Detective Superintendent Reg Bevan, who was leading the inquiry.
Police said there was no suggestion April's disappearance was linked to anything else. The man was being held in Aberystwyth last night as officers tried to discover if he knew anything more about the child's whereabouts.
Mr Bevan said the search for the man was one of a number of lines of inquiry. "It's very early stages at this stage. He's clearly a local man; it's a small community. I wouldn't like to speculate further."
The developments followed a day of searches by officers, mountain-rescue teams and volunteers. Groups of people accompanied by a specialist searcher scoured the hillsides and fields surrounding the town. The searches were focused in and around the town and officers were also seeking CCTV footage to try to identify the abductor and his route from the scene.
The advice given to those taking part was not to pick up any piece of child's clothing they discovered in case it held key forensic clues. People were encouraged to check outbuildings for any sign of the child. There have been no reported sighting of her since she went missing.
"We are still pursuing all lines of inquiry with a view that April is still alive and we will continue to do so until we find her," Mr Bevan said.
Specialist officers also continued with gentle questioning of young child witnesses who had been playing with April before she got into the van. There had been no reports of any sort of a struggle, raising suggestions that the man was known to the young girl.
April's godmother, Mair Raftree, 41, from Aberystwyth, who has helped with the efforts to find her, told Wales Online: "She's a quiet girl, and an important member of her family. She would never go with anybody and ask for a lift. "
Mr Bevan said before the arrest that he was "mindful that we are still in the process of speaking to these children. That is delicate and time-consuming. We are trying to extract exactly what they have seen and we are very anxious to provide the most accurate information we can."
The apparent breakthrough came as the girl's parents, Coral, 40, and Paul, 43, were preparing to make an appeal for more information.Reuse content