Everything we know about missing toddler in French Alps as police abandon search

Two-year-old Emile was reported missing in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence on 8 July and has not been seen since

Matt Mathers,Maanya Sachdeva
Friday 14 July 2023 19:16 BST
Toddler's disappearance in France: 'We are not losing hope', says prefect

Police in France are wrapping up the search for a missing toddler after scouring a remote village in the French Alps for five days.

Two-year-old Emile was on holiday with his grandparents when he vanished while playing in a garden, sparking a frantic hunt that involved thermic camera drones, helicopters and sniffer dogs.

Searches have so far yielded no clues to the whereabouts of the missing boy and police launched a last-ditch bid to find him on Thursday.

Here’s a look at everything we know about the case so far.

Extensive searches have been carried out to try and find Emile

Where did Emile disappear?

Emile, whose surname has not been reported, was playing in the garden of a property in Le Vernet - a small village of around 20 houses in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence on Saturday when he went missing.

His family was preparing to go out hiking for the day when they realised the child, who lives near Marseille, had disappeared.The boy’s grandparents had been packing the car when he vanished.

Emile is described as 3ft tall, with brown eyes and blonde hair and was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts with a green pattern and walking shoes when he vanished.

Reports said he was seen by two people when he left the property but they “lost sight of him”.

Police said on Wednesday that at least 10 people were present at the property where Emile was last seen amid a family reunion, with “several uncles and aunts of the child, of all ages, including some minors”, a police source said.

Le Vernet in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence where Émile disappeared

How has the search unfolded

Authorities in France issued an appeal for information about Emile on 9 July after the boy was reported missing by his grandparents at 5.15pm the previous day.

The search operation covered the land and air around Le Vernet and involved hundreds of police officers, soldiers and volunteers, The manager of a local restaurant said staff had looked “everywhere” for the boy as local volunteers helped with the search.

“We were preparing for the evening service, when we were told the child had gone missing,” the manager told La Provence.

Searchers look for missing two-year-old

“We all went to see what we could do to help as quickly as possible. “We have looked in places where he could be, we have really looked everywhere for him.”

At one point during the search, police helicopters played the voice of Emile’s mother through speakers in the hope that it could help bring him out.

On Wednesday evening it was reported that a vehicle with blood on it had been found amid the ongoing search for missing French toddler Emile.

In a statement to La Provence, local prosecutor Rémy Avon said analysis had revealed the sample “animal blood”.

Emile is described as 3ft tall, with brown eyes and blonde hair

Emile has now been missing for a week, as investigators admitted they have “no clue” what happened to him.

Mr Avon also said that he had taken the decision to call off the “physical” search for Emile on Thursday.

Police had been looking at a final plot of land in an area of Vernet, with around 50 officers taking part.

“The judicial investigation into the causes of the disappearance will continue,” Mr Avon added.

“In particular by analysing the considerable mass of information and elements collected over the past four days.”

Police are today combing a 1.8km-long road, that has previously been searched before, in the hope of finding new evidence in Emile’s disappearance. But police say they will be searching the stretch of road more “meticulously” this time.

What have politicians said?

The mayor of Le Vernet on Friday said the best hope for the missing toddler is that “he’s been kidnapped and is alive”.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Francois Balique commented on police calling off the physical search for Emile after five days and possible explanation’s for his disappearance.

“Our only hope now is that he’s been taken and is alive. It’s the last thing we can hope for and it’s already terrible.

“We could consider that someone wanting to cause harm to a child passed by the area, that he saw this beautiful little boy and took him away. He couldn’t survive alone in the wild, that’s for sure.”

Mr Balique said it is ”difficult to favour one hypothesis over another” but explained that “the probabilities and the rationality would lead us to believe that we are dealing with an accident”.

Mayor of Le Vernet Francois Balique said there is still hope

He continued: “And since little Emile’s body has not been found, it means that he was not alone at the time. We can consider a car accident in which the driver would have panicked and concealed the body. That’s one hypothesis.”

Local politician Sylvie Belmontes had earlier said the search reminded her of the case of Yannis Moré, who vanished from Ganagobie, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence in 1989 while playing with friends.

“It reminds us of a lot of things. I sent a little message of support to the mayor of Vernet, François Balique”, Ganagobie mayor Sylvie Belmonte told La Provence, referencing the disappearance of 3-year-old Yannis Moré in May 1989.

“I was town clerk and I took part in the search to try to find little Yannis”, he added.

Mr Avon told a press conference earlier this week that police had “no clue” where the boy was.

“His grandparents realised he was no longer there when they went to put him in the car.”

What happens next

Mr Avon said the previous searches did not yield any clues to solving the mystery of the boy’s disappearance and instead, investigators will be shifting their focus to evaluating evidence already gathered.

“The investigation into the causes of his disappearance will continue, notably through analysis of the considerable amount of information and elements gathered over four days,” he added.

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