A huge search operation for a two-year-old who wandered from his grandparents’ home in the French Alps has been called off, police have confirmed.
The search began on Monday when the child, identified only by his first name, Émile, went missing from the small village of Vernet, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence on Saturday.
Since then, hundreds of police officers, firefighters, and volunteers have scoured the area, sniffing dogs were deployed, and helicopters were mobilised with thermal imaging cameras.
Despite covering more than 1,000 acres, including forests, no trace of the boy has been found.
On Wednesday, police said it was ending its physical search for the boy and instead moving on to an exploration of the information they have collected so far.
In a statement given to the AFP news agency, Remy Avon, the prosecutor of Digne-les-Bains, said: “The judicial investigation into the causes of the disappearance will continue, in particular by analysing the considerable mass of information and elements collected over the past four days.”
He added that a blood stain found in a car had been sent for analysis but was discovered to be from an animal.
Mr Avon said the chances Émile went missing alone would not be ruled out, “even if this probability is very small”.
The small hamlet where he vanished, north of Nice, is a community of around only 20 households.
It is believed the young boy was staying with his grandparents for the holidays when he disappeared as his family was preparing to leave the house.
When his grandparents went to find him to load him into the car, the child was missing.
They raised the alarm at 5.15pm local time and the community quickly gathered a large search force.
A voice-recording featuring the boy’s mother was also broadcast in the area.
On Monday, the mayor of the Vernet spoke of his “dismay” to French broadcasters after search crews were unable to find any information leading to his whereabouts.
François Balique said: “I am very disappointed, I don’t understand why we haven’t found little Émile.
“We don’t understand what could have happened, the villagers are in dismay.”