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Detectives Return To French Village To Solve Missing Toddler Mystery




Detectives Return To French Village To Solve Year-Old Missing Toddler Mystery

French investigators have summoned 17 people to re-enact the events of the day he disappeared.

Investigators cordoned off a tiny village in the French Alps Thursday to try to solve the mystery of a missing toddler whose disappearance last summer gripped the nation.

Emile, two-and-a-half years old, was staying with his grandparents for the first day of the summer holidays when he vanished on July 8 last year.

Two neighbours last saw him in the late afternoon walking alone on a street in Haut-Vernet, a small settlement of 25 inhabitants at an altitude of around 1,200 metres (4,000 feet).

The little boy, barely 90 centimetres (35 inches) tall, was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts and tiny hiking shoes, according to a call for witnesses at the time.

A massive on-the-ground search involving dozens of police officers and soldiers, sniffer dogs, a helicopter and drones failed to find him in July.

It was called off after several days following a prosecutor saying it was unlikely such a young child would have survived in the summer heat.

An initial probe into a missing person soon became a criminal investigation into a possible abduction. But the options of an accident or a fall remain open.

French investigators have summoned 17 people, including family members, neighbours and witnesses, to re-enact the events of the day he disappeared.

They are to focus on the last moments during which Emile was seen by neighbours, trying to untangle their contradictory accounts.

Drones in the drizzle

“The aim of the re-enactment is to replay the evening on July 8 to be able to confirm or disprove elements” gathered by the investigators, said regional police official Pierre Coursieres.

Francois Balique, mayor of the wider Le Vernet area, said residents clung on to the hope that “the truth could be revealed”.

To ensure no interference in the investigation, police cordoned off the village from the outside world on Wednesday morning. It will remain so until Friday morning.

Flights over the village are also forbidden.

Some 20 journalists huddled in the cold drizzle at the barrier cutting off access to the village on Thursday, kept at bay by two police cars.

Around 20 investigators are to guide the re-enactment of events, with some flying drones above to film it all.

The boy’s grandfather was questioned in a 1990s case into alleged violence and sexual aggression at a private Catholic school, it has emerged.

But a source close to the case said his possible involvement in the disappearance had always been examined to “the same degree” as other hypotheses.

The family’s “only hope is that the child is still alive, even if this hope fades from day to day,” the grandfather’s lawyer said.

‘Tell us where he is’

Emile had just arrived in Haut-Vernet to stay with his mother’s parents in their holiday home for the summer when he went missing.

His parents, devout Catholics living in the southern town of La Bouilladisse, were not present on that day.

His mother is the oldest of 10 children.

Emile was her first child and she also has a younger daughter.

Investigators received some 900 calls from members of the public in the case, all of which have been dismissed as unrelated.

They have also sifted through endless mobile data and call logs in the hope of finding a clue.

In late November, a day before Emile would have turned three, his parents published a call for answers in a Christian weekly.

“Tell us where he is,” they wrote.

Le Vernet resident Gilles Thezan on Thursday said it was always “nerve-wracking to go for a walk” in the area because you never knew what you were going to find.

“The mood has been heavy since July,” he added.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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