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Toddler goes missing in remote part of Southern France after wandering from home


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A French toddler wandered away from his relatives’ home in a remote part of southern France over the weekend – and investigators admit they are starting to fear the worst as the search effort grows more desperate.

Émile, 2, was last seen walking away from his grandparents’ residence in Le Haut Vernet, a mountainous hamlet in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, on Saturday afternoon, The Guardian reported.

By Tuesday, the initial search had expanded into a massive air and ground effort including helicopters broadcasting the tot’s mother’s voice, MailOnline said.

Haut Vernet is also now closed off to outsiders as officials scramble to piece together any remaining clues to the boy’s whereabouts.

“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,” François Balique, the mayor of the nearby town of Le Vernet, told local television of the moment Émile vanished.

“His grandparents realized he was no longer there when they went to put him in the car,” he said, according to The Guardian.

“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.”

Investigators initially ruled out the possibility that Émile was abducted, the outlet noted, though it is unclear if that is still the case.

In addition to helicopters, the official search includes hundreds of gendarmes – or armed police officers – as well as thermic camera drones and sniffer dogs.

Officials have also praised the tight-knit local community for rallying together.

“We were preparing for the evening service, when we were told the child had gone missing,’ Marie-Laure, who co-runs a nearby restaurant, told La Provence.

Officials have also praised the tight-knit local community for rallying together.

“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.”

Nearly 800 people have turned up to help scour a three-mile radius, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence prefect Marc Chappuis announced Tuesday, according to The Independent.

Sadly, Tuesday evening brought no meaningful developments in the case.

“As I speak to you, the operations have not brought any useful elements to the investigation”, Rémy Avon, public prosecutor for Digne-les-Bains, said at a press conference.

“We have no clue, no information, no element that can help us understand this disappearance. We are at the same point [as] yesterday at the same time.”

The lack of results has caused optimism to wane, a gendarme spokesperson told Le Point.

“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,” the representative reasoned.

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