Europe

France fears for girl Maelys missing since Isere wedding

A photo taken on 28 August 2017 shows an appeal for witnesses poster for Maëlys, a nine-year-old girl who disappeared during a wedding party on 26-27 August in Pont-de-Beauvoisin, eastern France Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police have appealed for any witnesses to come forward

Concern is growing over the fate of a nine-year-old girl who vanished while attending a wedding in eastern France.

The girl, Maëlys De Araujo, was last seen in a children's room at about 03:00 on Sunday (01:00 GMT).

Extensive searches of the area around the wedding hall using a helicopter and police dogs have thus far failed to find a trace of the girl.

A kidnapping investigation has opened and police have issued an appeal for witnesses.

Police have already interviewed most of the 180 attendees at the wedding, which took place in a hall in Pont-de-Beauvoisin, Isère.

But the local prosecutor says they are also trying to speak to an additional 70 people who were attending two other social events at a community hall and bar nearby.

Maëlys was at the wedding along with her mother - cousin of the bride - father, and older sister. They are said to live in the nearby department of Jura.

A guest, Grégoire, told Le Parisien news site what had happened when guests realised the girl was missing.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Guiers river, a short distance from the wedding venue, was searched by police divers for a second time on Tuesday
Image copyright AFP
Image caption There are so far few clues as to why and how Maëlys disappeared from the hall where the wedding was held

"The DJ for the evening announced on the microphone that a child had disappeared. Suddenly, everyone started searching, in the main hall and outside.

"It was anguish. To see the disappearance of a nine-year-old, that's not nothing. We initially thought she must be asleep in a corner after a game of hide-and-seek. After an hour, as we'd found nothing, the police were alerted."

Grégoire said he believed that a kidnapping had taken place. Reports also say police dogs failed to find any scent of the girl beyond the car park of the wedding hall, suggesting the girl did not run away.

Police, firefighters and volunteer firefighters have searched dense vegetation around the wedding hall, the nearby river Guiers and even sewers. The search continued on Tuesday and divers could be seen once again searching the river, about 500m (one-third of a mile) away.

The local prosecutor, Dietlind Baudoin, said she did not want to make hasty assumptions about what had happened, but a criminal explanation could not be ruled out.

Police have appealed for witnesses to come forward to help find Maëlys, who they say is 130cm tall (4'3"), weighs 28kg (4st 6lb), has dark skin, brown eyes and hair, and was wearing a white sleeveless dress.

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