Police looking for a missing two-year-old boy feared to have been kidnapped in the French town of Moulins have called off their search operation after they discovered he only existed on social media.
Chayson Basinio was reported missing on Friday 11 April by a woman claiming to be his great-aunt. She told police officers that she had last seen the child in a supermarket car park, and was worried he had been snatched.
She also told detectives that Basinio and the boy's mother had separated and she did not know where they were.
Following the report, the local judge in the Auvergne town opened an inquiry for kidnapping and sequestration, which saw police divers dredge the local lake, according to the Guardian.
Police also found photographs allegedly showing the boy and his father, 20-year-old Rayane Basinio, on Facebook.
But detectives became suspicious when they failed to find any leads days into their search, and began to notice inconsistencies in the information given to them by the woman claiming to be Basinio's relative.
The team has since discovered that the woman’s teenage daughter and a cousin – both minors – helped her to set up a false account using pictures taken from other users on the site.
Eric Mazaud, the public prosecutor, said the investigation had changed, but charges would be made.
“The inquiry for kidnapping and sequestration has obviously been redirected into one of reporting an imaginary crime or offence,” Mazaud told the newspaper.
“It [the inquiry] was long and complicated but we can now say that the young Chayson has never existed and nor have his father or mother,” he added.
The unnamed woman posing as Chayson’s aunt is currently in police custody. If found guilty of inventing a crime, she could be sentenced up to six months in prison and receive a €7,500 (£6,180) fine.
"Sadly, this is a very modern-day story. Someone decided to create false Facebook accounts and took pictures from real accounts to feed the false accounts and make these people seem real,“ Mazaud added.
"We don't know why someone decided to make a false report. We are currently trying to work out a motive. Either that person has a psychological problem, or there were other purposes behind it, such as revenge," he said.