Remains of missing 2-year-old Emile Soleil found in French Alps

Split image of Emile, a two-year-old boy who went missing on July 8, 2023 and a photo of French police searching for him in the French southern Alps village of Le Vernet. Nine months after going missing, the remains of the toddler were found near the hamlet he disappeared from. Twitter/Getty Images

Bones belonging to Émile Soleil, a 2-year-old boy who went missing nearly nine months ago from his grandparents’ home in a remote hamlet in the French Alps, have been found.

Soleil’s disappearance in July last year shocked France and captured international attention. The toddler seemingly vanished into thin air as his family was getting ready to leave the house for an outing, the mayor of Le Vernet said at the time.

A massive air and land search took place involving hundreds of police, soldiers, rescue workers and volunteers scouring hectares of the mountainous terrain around Le Vernet. No signs of the toddler were found and, eventually, the search effort was called off.

Click to play video: 'Desperate search for missing 2-year-old in French Alps involves nearly 800 people: official'
Desperate search for missing 2-year-old in French Alps involves nearly 800 people: official

On Saturday, the partial remains of Soleil were found by a hiker near the hamlet where he had gone missing, French prosecutors announced. The bones were found just one kilometre away from Le Vernet, according to French newspaper La Provence, in an area that had been extensively searched by police.

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Part of the boy’s skull was found, the paper reports.

French investigators carried out genetic testing on the remains and confirmed that the bones belonged to Soleil. Authorities are unsure of the toddler’s cause of death and forensic investigators will continue to analyze the remains.

“This heartbreaking news was feared,” said the toddler’s parents in a statement through their lawyer. “The time has come for mourning, contemplation and prayer.”

French authorities have blocked the entrance to Le Vernet and have cordoned off the area where Soleil’s remains were found.

Sniffer dogs specializing in the search for human remains were deployed to find any more traces or clues of what happened to the 2-year-old, said Colonel Pierre-Yves Bardy of the local gendarmerie.

When Soleil first disappeared, there was no indication the toddler had been abducted, police said at the time. But with the toddler’s bones being found so close to the hamlet in an area that had been searched by authorities, questions are being raised as to how they got there.

“Is that where he disappeared? Is that where he took his last breath, nobody knows,” said Mayor François Balique. “In any case I have no idea, but the judicial inquiry will no doubt be able to find that out.”

Marie-Laure Pezant, a spokesperson for the gendarermie, said the bones could have been placed there by a person or an animal, or could have been moved there by changing weather conditions, the BBC reports.

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Police have not ruled out any cause of the toddler’s death and are looking into whether Soleil was abducted or slipped and fell in an accident.

Soleil vanished the day after his parents dropped him off in Le Vernet to stay with his grandparents for the holidays.

Two witnesses told authorities they saw the boy walking on a downhill road not far from the family home shortly after he was reported missing, according to Rémy Avon, prosecutor of Digne-les-Bains.

The rugged terrain of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence prefecture, where the small hamlet of Le Vernet is located, is popular with hikers for its rivers, ravines and steep paths, but makes for treacherous landscape for a toddler. The town is only home to about 130 inhabitants and has been described as a place where “everyone knows everyone.”

All 30 buildings that make up the hamlet were searched by investigators.

French gendarmes take part in a search operation for two-and-a-half-year-old Emile who was reported missing in the French southern Alps village of Le Vernet. Emile was last seen playing in the garden at his grandparents’ house on July 8, 2023. Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images

Soleil disappeared during a heatwave in the French Alps, when temperatures soared above 35 C for multiple days.

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The discovery of his bones came just two days after police organized a re-enactment of the day he vanished, involving 17 people, including family members, neighbours and witnesses. No major developments in the case arose from the re-enactment.

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