French police fear missing Emile may have been hit by a harvester
French police are afraid that a missing two-year-old boy may have been hit by a combine harvester while walking through long grass.
The toddler disappeared without a trace on July 8 from Haut-Vernet, an Alpine hamlet south of Grenoble, where he was staying with his grandparents.
Prosecutor Remy Avon said on Monday that the investigation is being launched to ‘investigate causes of the worrying disappearance.’
Some scenarios, such as a bird of prey or wolf attack, have already been ruled out. A total of 20 houses were also searched, but nothing was found there.
Now the police are investigating the scenario in which Émile would have come into contact with an agricultural machine.
On July 8 two-year-old Émile Soleil (pictured) disappeared without trace from Haut-Vernet, an Alpine hamlet south of Grenoble
Pictured: French gendarmes are briefed before taking part in a search operation
A farmer from the village of Le Vernet, where the search is taking place, told BFMTV that it would not be an illogical scenario.
He explained: ‘Sometimes we find deer. The little one may have ended up in the tall grass and been hit by a farm machine. That would be terrible.’
The countryside search for missing Émile was called off on Wednesday evening last week, after four days.
Hundreds of gendarmes, police and volunteers had been involved in a vast operation beating fields and bushes, and examined them from the air.
Local prosecutor Rémy Avon said that the ‘physical search’ could go no further, because there was ‘no sign’ of Émile.
But he added: ‘The judicial investigation into the causes of the disappearance will continue, in particular by analyzing the considerable mass of information and elements collected over the past four days.’
He said the possibilities that Émile had been murdered, kidnapped, or got involved in an accident were all being looked at.
‘All these theories are active,’ said Mr. Avon. ‘Nothing has been ruled out.’
The police have released a photo and description of Emile, who is almost 3ft tall, with brown eyes, and blond hair.
He was wearing a yellow top, white shorts with a green pattern, and hiking shoes at the time of his disappearance.
Residents of Vernet have since been referring to the place as a cursed ‘village of the damned’ because of its links with disaster.
Searches have so far brought together 800 gendarmes, firefighters, volunteers, helicopters, thermic camera drones and sniffer dogs
Gendarmes meticulously search the outskirts of the village of Vernet on July 13, 2023. They have been unable to locate the boy
A gendarme is followed by cameras during his search, as about fifty mobile gendarmes from Gap shift through ‘1.8km of road’ in France on July 13, 2023
In March 2015, Vernet was also cordoned off following a horrific air crash in which 150 people died, including two babies.
The Germanwings Airbus A320 was deliberately brought down by co-pilot Andres Lubitz, who had previously been treated for suicidal tendencies.
Many Vernet residents took part in high mountain searches for possible survivors at the time.
They also opened their homes for families and friends of those who perished in the disaster.
The inhabitants of Vernet were also shaken by the murder of a local cafe manager in the village 15 years ago.
Jeannette Grosos, who ran the Café du Moulin, was brutally killed by a customer in 2008.
Mayor François Balique said: ‘It was a real drama for the whole village – one which had a hard time recovering.’
One resident of Vernat said on Wednesday: ‘Everybody is saying it – Vernet feels like a village of the damned.’
A walker passes in front of gendarmes who are resting for a few moments before continuing the ranking on July 13
Volunteers take part in a search operation for two-and-a-half-year-old Emile last seen on July 8
Two gendarmes meticulously search the surroundings of a house for the young boy who has vanished