The tiny French village of Le Vernet has found itself at the centre of a mystery this week after the disappearance of a toddler on a summer afternoon.
Little Émile, 2, vanished while playing in the garden of his grandparents’ house in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence on Saturday.
Despite a huge search over several days, which included a helicopter, drones and sniffer dogs, and some 1,200 phone calls about the Émile, the child is nowhere to be found.
On the fifth day of the search police said they still had ‘no clue’ as to his whereabouts, and the physical hunt has been called off.
Public prosecutor Rémy Avon told journalists: ‘At the moment we have no clue, no information, no element that can help us understand this disappearance. ’It is thought Émile may have gone missing while out ‘chasing butterflies’.
An emergency services source said: ‘Émile was always chasing butterflies, and could have got a long way away, before hiding somewhere for a nap.’
But it’s not the first time Le Vernet, which has a population of roughly 150, has been at the heart of tragedy.
Local Christian Mollet told La Montagne: ‘The village has been hit by this type of tragedy three times.‘
There was the murder of Jeannette, the manager of the Moulin café, killed by a customer in 2008; the crash of the company Germanwings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa in 2015 with 150 people on board; and then there is this disappearance…’One villager added today: ‘Everybody is saying it – Le Vernet feels like a village of the damned.’
Jeanette Grosos, who at the time was the owner of Café du Moulin, was murdered by a customer.The customer was well-known in the area and savagely beat her to death.
Local Gilles Thezan told L’yonne Relublicaine she was a ‘local institution’. The village mayor at the time, François Balique, said ‘the village will have a hard time recovering from it’.
Another tragedy struck in 2015 when Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 crashed into the Alps.Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, 28, brought down the Airbus intentionally in a suicide plan.
The flight was travelling from Barcelona Airport to Duesseldorf in Germany, with 150 people onboard.
The captain asked the co-pilot to take over radio communications at around 9.30am, and Lubitz altered the flight monitoring system to send the aircraft into descent.
The plane crashed into a mountain at 430mph (700kmh), instantly killing everyone on board.
A commemorative plaque is in place in Le Vernet following the tragedy.
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