A former military dog trainer has confessed to “unintentionally” killing a nine-year-old girl whose disappearance from a wedding party in the Alps last year prompted nationwide concern and months of fruitless searching.
Investigators at last found Maelys De Araujo’s skull and some other remains on Wednesday in a snow-covered ravine six months after she went missing, according to Grenoble prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat.
Police were led to the remote site by chief suspect Nordahl Lelandais, who was arrested and charged after her disappearance but had repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
He was a guest at the same wedding in Pont-de-Beauvoisin, near the French mountain city of Chambery.
Lelandais decided to come clean on Wednesday after investigators found traces of the girl’s blood in the boot of Lelandais’s car, the prosecutor told reporters.
Lelandais told investigators that he killed her accidentally, hid the body near his house and then returned to the wedding party.
He later dumped the child’s body in the remote ravine.
After Maelys went missing, police questioned more than 200 potential witnesses, and hundreds of volunteers helped search the area for days.
Police dogs found the girl’s scent but lost it in the wedding hall car park, suggesting she may have been forced into a vehicle or got into one voluntarily.
In his confession, Lelandais did not explain the circumstances of the girl’s death, the prosecutor said.
“Lelandais asked investigation judges to question him today, because he had revelations to make,” the prosecutor said.
Afterwards, the prosecutor said, Lelandais apologised to the girl and her parents.
His lawyer Alain Jakubowicz described surprise at hearing Lelandais’s confession of Maelys’s “accidental death”, but did not give further details about what happened.
The lawyer said he was dropping his request for Lelandais’s release.
“I’m a father. Nothing worse can happen to you as a parent,” he said, choking up.
Lelandais is also now suspected of killing a soldier months before in the same region.