Fears grow French boy, 2, who vanished from grandparents’ garden may have got lost ‘chasing butterflies’

12 July 2023, 08:00 | Updated: 12 July 2023, 11:42

Search efforts have increased for the missing toddler.
Search efforts have increased for the missing toddler. Picture: Alamy/Twitter

By Jenny Medlicott

Authorities fear a French boy who went missing from his grandparents’ garden may have got lost “chasing butterflies”.

French police launched a hunt for the missing Émile, 2, who went missing while on holiday with his grandparents at the weekend.

Émile was playing in the garden of a holiday home he and his grandparents’ were staying at on Saturday afternoon in the hamlet of Le Vernet in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.

While his grandparents were busy preparing to head out for the day, Émile reportedly went to play in the garden, but by the time they returned to put him in the car, he had disappeared.

Now an emergency service source has expressed new concerns as to why Émile may have vanished, they said: “Émile was always chasing butterflies, and could have got a long way away, before hiding somewhere for a nap.

“Their hope is that Emile will be hidden in the countryside, and will come out when he hears his mother’s voice coming from a helicopter.”

At 5:15pm local time on Saturday, Émile’s grandparents informed the authorities of his disappearance and police, family, emergency service workers and local residents all began a desperate search mission for the boy.

As search efforts grow more desperate, local authorities have brought in helicopter, thermic camera drones, and sniffer dogs.

Choppers are also patrolling the area with his mother’s voice being broadcast from them.

Public prosecutor Rémy Avon said at a press conference on Tuesday evening: “At the moment we have no clue, no information, no element that can help us understand this disappearance.

“We are at the same point as the day before yesterday after receiving the two testimonies”, Mr Avon said. “We are really pushing the investigations on the ground as much as we can”.

All possible explanations are on the table, we're not favouring any, and we're not ruling any out,' Mr Avon said.

Read more: Fears missing French boy, 2, is dead and his body hidden after crash with 'car or tractor'

Read more: Desperate hunt for French boy 2, who vanished playing in garden on holiday as police ramp up search efforts

Émile, 2, went missing on Saturday afternoon in an Alpine village.
Émile, 2, went missing on Saturday afternoon in an Alpine village. Picture: Twitter

Other theories have suggested Émile may have been hit by a vehicle and his body hidden afterwards.

"Either the body was concealed after an accident, or it was removed," a spokesperson for the police said.

"It is obvious that, after 48 hours, we have switched to another dimension. Hearings are underway.

"Of course, we still have hope of finding him alive, but elsewhere. If he was dead in the perimeter, the dogs would have smelled him.

"If he was alive and hidden, we would also have found him given the means that were deployed."

The initial search party covered 5km in the search, but were unable to find him.

The mayor of Le Vernet, François Balique, said on French television that Émile was a good walker for a boy his age.

“It’s a small village with 20 or so houses… we see everything. He could have gone some distance and perhaps got lost or was hiding,” he said.

The boy was spotted leaving the accommodation by two nearby people on Saturday but they said they soon “lost sight of him”.

Police have searched all homes in the village and urged anyone with information to come forward.

It is believed Émile, who is originally from Bouches-du-Rhône near Marseille, was wearing a yellow top, white shorts with a green pattern and hiking shoes when he vanished.

He is 90cm (almost 3ft) tall, with brown eyes and blonde hair, according to officials.

Police are not considering abduction as the potential explanation at this time.

The manager of the Bistrot in Le Vernet Marie-Laure told La Provence: “We were preparing for the evening service, when we were told the child had gone missing.

"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."

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