Why police reconstruction in Alps village where boy, 2, went missing?

Investigators are focusing on witness statements, but the family’s lawyer has questioned why it is happening now

A family handout photo of Emile
The reconstruction is aiming to ascertain the exact movements and locations of the day Emile went missing
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Investigators are today organising a reconstruction of suspected events in Le Haut-Vernet, the hamlet in south-east France from which then-2.5-year-old Emile disappeared in July 2023.

A total of 17 people have been requested to participate in today’s event (March 28) in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence village, including members of the boy’s family, neighbours, and alleged witnesses.

It marks a new stage in the gendarmerie investigation, eight months after the boy’s disappearance. The hamlet is now closed to all outsiders, from today until tomorrow morning (March 29), by municipal decree. Flying over the hamlet is also banned, with drones and a team of 60 gendarmes securing the area.

The aim is to retrace - minute by minute - the movements of that day, and place witnesses and other participants physically in the space, to check if the claims and memories fit together coherently, to build up a more accurate picture of events.

This includes checking who could see what area and at what time, and going over memories and accounts of what people heard and/or saw.

Witness statements

Gendarmerie particularly want to focus on the locations of the two neighbours, both of whom appear to be the last people to see Emile alive, but whose witness statements do not quite align. One said they saw Emile going down the lane away from the house and towards the hamlet, but another states that they saw him going up, in the direction of the house.

A team of 20 officers from the Marseille research unit are on-site, along with the criminal investigation unit of the Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence departmental gendarmerie. Yet another team will be filming the reconstruction and taking photos for future reference.

Investigators will also use drones to help with the reconstruction, especially in the most remote and precarious areas of the mountain hamlet.

“The aim remains the same: to ensure the peace and quiet of local residents and the smooth running of the exercise,” said François Balique, mayor of Le Vernet (the larger ‘sister’ village two kilometres away, and at a lower altitude, than the 1,200m Le Haut-Vernet), to BFMTV.

Huit mois après la disparition d'Émile, 2 ans et demi, au Haut-Vernet, une mise en situation se déroule à partir de 9h00

Au total, 17 personnes sont convoquées : les grands-parents d'Émile, oncles et tantes, voisins et témoins oculaires (source gendarmerie à @BFMTV) pic.twitter.com/PYEr040QBd

— Boris Kharlamoff (@BorisKharlamoff) March 28, 2024

Disappearance and investigation

Emile, who was two-and-a-half at the time, was reported missing at around 17:30 on July 8 last year while on holiday with his grandparents, while his extended family were packing the car to go on an excursion. His grandfather reported him missing after saying he could no longer see or find the boy, who had previously been at his side.

Two witnesses reported seeing Emile walking away from the home at around 16:30, but - despite his young age - this was not considered unusual in the tiny hamlet.

Neither he, nor any sign of him, have been seen since. This is despite near-constant investigations since the day of disappearance, including the use of drones and sniffer dogs.

No leads have been revealed as more likely, with police apparently no closer to discovering if Emile was in an accident, kidnapped, or killed. No crime scene has been established, and no-one has been suspected of any crime in connection with the incident.

Local houses and cars have been searched, and hypotheses suggested, but no definite leads have been confirmed.

Read more: Properties in six departments searched over missing boy, 2, in France
Read more: Boy, 2, missing in French Alps: Sniffer dogs search for human remains

Sniffer dogs picked up Emile’s scent for the last time on a lane near his grandparents’ house, towards the hamlet’s old ‘lavoir (wash house)’, which matches the reports of one witness, who saw him there at around 16:45. No other scents or signs have been noted.

‘Why carry it out at this time of year?’

Lawyer for Emile’s family, Me Isabelle Colombani, has said that the reconstruction stage marks the end of the gendarmerie telephone record investigations, and could be a “decisive new stage” in the case.

However, she also questioned why the reconstruction was taking place now, when conditions are very different in comparison to when Emile went missing (high summer).

"Why carry it out at this time of year, when the weather forecast is for snow, and not at a time when nature would be more representative of the conditions on the day of the disappearance?” she said.

"[The family] has been through a lot, but they're hoping that replaying the chronology will help to unblock certain things.”

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