Remains of missing French toddler Émile Soleil found in French Alps

Remains of missing French toddler Émile Soleil found in French Alps

French police are searching for clues to how a boy who disappeared eight months ago died after the discovery this weekend of his partial remains.

In a case that shocked France, Émile Soleil, aged two and a half, vanished in July while staying with his grandparents in a hamlet in the French Alps. A massive air and land search at the time found no trace of the child.

The search was resumed on Monday after a hiker discovered a skull almost 1km from where the boy had last been seen in an area police said they had combed last year.

Police using drones and sniffer dogs returned to examine the area around the tiny village of Le Vernet for further remains and clothing. A team of forensic experts including anthropologists were at the scene to collect samples and try to establish whether the body had been moved and the cause of death.

Marie-Laure Pezant, a spokesperson for the gendarmerie, said the area had already been searched several times by a citizens’ search party and investigators last year, including with a helicopter equipped with thermal imaging cameras.

She said all leads of inquiry were being considered. “There is the possibility that these bones were taken there by someone or an animal or by weather conditions that may have altered the area.”

The local mayor, François Balique, who sealed off part of the village to visitors, told journalists: “Émile would never have gone alone to where they found him.”

The discovery of the bones, confirmed to be that of the boy, came after police organised a reconstruction of events at the time of his disappearance involving more than a dozen people last week.

Emile disappeared on 8 July last year, the day after he arrived in the tiny and remote hamlet of Haut Vernet, population 25, 2km from Le Vernet, to stay with his maternal grandparents for the holidays.

The child was last seen by two neighbours walking alone on a street in Le Vernet, 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) up in the French Alps.

He was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts and small hiking shoes, investigators said at the time.

A massive search involving police, soldiers, sniffer dogs, a helicopter and drones failed to find any sign of the boy.

“On Saturday, the police were informed of the discovery of bones near the hamlet of Le Vernet,” prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon said.

He added that genetic testing had shown they were the boy’s remains.

A card with the inscription reading ‘For little Emile and his family’ next to a portrait of Emile, a missing boy, who disappeared on 8 July 2023. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

Jérôme Triomphe, the family’s lawyer, released a statement on their behalf on Sunday. “This heartbreaking news was feared,” it said. He asked the media to respect the family’s “pain and grief”.

Triomphe said: “Investigators are continuing their work … in order for the cause of Emile’s disappearance and death can be found.”

The prosecutor did not give a cause of death, but said that forensic investigators were continuing to analyse the bones, which were spotted by a walker.

A roadblock had been set up on the only road into Le Vernet on Sunday with the prosecutor adding that police were carrying out new searches in the area where the body was found.

Police have started a criminal investigation into a possible abduction but are also considering an accident or a fall as reasons for the toddler’s death.

Officers on Thursday returned to the village, cordoning off the area and summoning 17 people including family members, neighbours and witnesses to reenact the last moments before he went missing.

Drones flew overhead in the drizzle to capture footage of the reenactment, but there was no news of any major development.

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