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France police find remains of toddler missing in the Alps

A source close to the case said a walker had spotted the remains (CHRISTOPHE SIMON)
A source close to the case said a walker had spotted the remains (CHRISTOPHE SIMON)

French investigators have found the remains of a toddler who went missing last year in an Alpine village in a case that shocked the nation, and are working to determine how he died, a prosecutor said Sunday.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Emile Soleil vanished on July 8 last year while staying with his grandparents. Two neighbours last saw him walking alone on a street in Le Vernet, 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) up in the French Alps.

"On Saturday, the police were informed of the discovery of bones near the hamlet of Le Vernet," prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon said. He added that genetic testing had shown they were the boy's remains.

"This heartbreaking news was feared," the child's parents said in a statement released by their lawyer, Jerome Triomphe.

The parents, both devout Catholics "now know on this Resurrection Sunday that Emile watches over them in the light and tenderness of God," it said. "But the pain and sorrow remain".

"The time has come for mourning, contemplation and prayer," it said, asking the family be accorded privacy.

The prosecutor did not give a cause of death, but said that forensic investigators were continuing to analyse the bones, which were spotted by a walker.

The prosecutor added that police were carrying out new searches in the area where the body was found. A roadblock had been set up on the only road into Le Vernet on Sunday.

Emile disappeared the day after he arrived in the village to stay with his maternal grandparents for the holidays.

The little boy was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts and tiny hiking shoes, investigators said at the time.

A massive search involving police, soldiers, sniffer dogs, a helicopter and drones failed to find any sign.

- 'Family's grief' -

Police have started a criminal investigation into a possible abduction. The possibilities of an accident or a fall have also remained open.

Police on Thursday returned to the village, cordoning off the area and summoning 17 people including family members, neighbours and witnesses to re-enact the last moments before he went missing.

Drones flew overhead in the drizzle to capture footage of the re-enactment, but there was no news of any major development.

Emile's mother and father were absent on the day of his disappearance.

Some media had focused on the role of boy's grandfather, now in his fifties.

The grandfather was questioned in the 1990s over alleged violence and sexual assault at a private school.

But a source close to the case said any possible role in the case had only been consideered with other hypotheses.

The grandfather's lawyer on Sunday declined to comment, "out of respect for the family's grief".

In November, a day before Emile would have turned three, his parents published a call for answers in a Christian weekly.

"Tell us where he is," said the couple, who also have a younger daughter.

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