Europe

Maëlys de Araujo: Remains of missing French girl found

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 Maëlys de Araujo attended the wedding with her parents

The remains of a nine-year-old girl who disappeared in the French Alps last August have been found, officials say.

Ex-soldier Nordahl Lelandais, 34, admitted killing Maëlys de Araujo "involuntarily", without giving details. Both were guests at a wedding.

He agreed to co-operate with the police after tiny traces of her blood were found in the boot of his Audi car.

The girl went missing in Pont-de-Beauvoisin, north of Grenoble. Her remains were found near the village.

Nordahl Lelandais said he "got rid of the body" and offered his apologies to the girl's parents, said Grenoble prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat.

He had previously admitted that Maëlys was in his car on the night she disappeared.

The girl's mother, Jennifer Cleyet Marrel, addressed a bitter Facebook message to Mr Lelandais.

"We had to wait five and a half months for this monster to finally speak... Maëlys will haunt you nights and days in your prison," she wrote in French.

"My little angel, I couldn't protect you from this predator, and this guilt will continue for a long time."

A wedding guest

Maëlys was last seen in the early hours of 27 August in the children's area at the wedding venue.

On Wednesday Mr Lelandais led investigators to an area near his parents' home at Domessin, not far from Pont-de-Beauvoisin.

The search for her remains took police an entire day, involving sniffer dogs working in the mountain snow.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption French police block off a road near the Chartreuse regional park during Wednesday's search

After her disappearance, police questioned all 180 guests, and identified inconsistencies in Mr Lelandais' statements.

He was charged a week later, after police discovered DNA belonging to Maëlys on the dashboard of his car.

Since then, Mr Lelandais has maintained his innocence, claiming that although the girl may have been in his car, that did not prove his guilt.

He was also reported to have spent hours cleaning his car the next day with powerful detergents - something he said he was doing to prepare it for sale.

According to French media reports, Mr Lelandais made a confession in prison on Tuesday, after traces of Maëlys' blood were found in his car.

Still reticent

France's Le Parisien newspaper reports that Mr Lelandais refused to provide details about the girl's death, beyond his insistence it was accidental.

A prosecutor, quoted in the French press, said that after Maëlys' death, her body was taken to a location near Mr Lelandais' home. He apparently returned to the wedding for some time, before later recovering the remains and burying them in the Chartreuse mountains.

The police investigation included mining his computer and phone for information.

Those trawls revealed that, after the disappearance of 23-year-old soldier Arthur Noyer in April 2017, Mr Lelandais searched the internet for "human body decomposition".

Mr Noyer's skull was found by a walker on 7 September in Montmelian, 16km (10 miles) from Chambéry. Mr Lelandais lived with his parents, 30km from Chambéry.

He admitted being in the area where Mr Noyer disappeared but denied any involvement in the killing. He was charged in that case in December.

Mr Lelandais has been questioned about a number of other missing persons in the region.

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