Desperate search underway after 2-year-old boy goes missing in France – National

Desperate search underway after 2-year-old boy goes missing in France – National

An extensive air and land search for a missing toddler in the mountainous village of Le Vernet, France, is nearing the 48-hour mark, a window that French authorities said would be “crucial to be able to optimize our chances” of finding him.

The two-and-a-half-year-old boy, identified as Émile, was playing in the garden of his grandparents’ house on Saturday around 6 p.m. local time when he vanished.

“The family was getting ready to leave the house to go on an outing. He took advantage of this fleeting moment [of inattention] to leave,” said François Balique, the mayor of Le Vernet, in front of TV cameras. “His grandparents realized he was no longer there when they went to put him in the car.”

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So far, nearly 300 volunteers, rescue workers, firefighters and police have participated in the search for Émile, aided by helicopters, sniffer dogs and drones equipped with thermal cameras. Balique noted on Sunday that around 400 to 500 hectares of land had been covered by search teams with no trace of the child.

The rugged terrain of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence prefecture, where the small hamlet of Le Vernet is located, is popular with hikers for its rivers, ravines and steep paths, but makes for treacherous landscape for a toddler. The town is only home to about 130 inhabitants and has been described as a place where “everyone knows everyone.”

French gendarmes take part in a search operation for two-and-a-half-year-old Emile who is reported missing for two days, on Monday in the French southern Alps village of Le Vernet. Emile was last seen playing in the garden at his grandparents’ house on Saturday.

Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images

Two witnesses told authorities they saw Émile walking on a downhill road not far from the family home shortly after he was reported missing, according to Rémy Avon, prosecutor of Digne-les-Bains.

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“This is where we then lose track of him,” said Avon in a Sunday press conference.

There is so far no indication that Émile was kidnapped, though Avon said authorities are keeping all their options open and at-home searches are being conducted.

“For the moment, no hypothesis has been eluded or favoured. We have no clue in the direction of the kidnapping,” he said, according to French daily La Provence

Émile is described by national police as having blond hair, brown eyes and standing 90 centimetres tall. He was last seen wearing white shorts, a yellow shirt and hiking shoes.

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Mayor Balique said the boy’s family is known in the area, as they’ve spent numerous holidays there over decades. He said Émile comes from a family of hikers and walks “better than the average child of his age.”

Balique notes that the child may be able to cover a good distance on foot but “at two and a half, you get exhausted quickly, he must not have gone very far.”

Émile’s parents are participating in the search. They live in La Bouilladisse, a small town located about 160 kilometres from Le Vernet.

On Monday morning, the search zone for the boy was enlarged. Authorities said new resources are being brought in from other departments to aid in the search.

“We will see after 48 hours,” said Marc Chappui, prosecutor for Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

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