The far-right political backgrounds of the parents of missing French boy Émile Soleil are being scrutinized as fears for their safety mount.
It’s been almost a week since the two-year-old boy disappeared without trace from Haut-Vernet, an Alpine village south of Grenoble, where he was staying with his grandparents.
Investigators have not ruled out any theories, and have extended their investigation to other parts of France after an extensive search of the countryside around Vernet turned up nothing.
Now MailOnline has learned that Émile’s father, Colomban Soleil, 26, was arrested for ‘an attack on foreigners’ in 2018.
He appeared before judges in Aix-en-Provence and was released after pledging to keep the peace, multiple legal sources confirmed.
It’s been almost a week since two-year-old Émile Soleil (pictured) disappeared without trace from Haut-Vernet, an Alpine village south of Grenoble.
Now MailOnline has learned that Émile’s father, 26-year-old Colomban Soleil (pictured), was arrested for ‘an attack on foreigners’ in 2018
Investigators have extended their investigation to other parts of France after a thorough search of the countryside around Vernet turned up nothing. Pictured: French gendarmes receive briefings before taking part in a search operation.
At the time, Soleil was an activist with ties to Action Francaise, the notorious far-right nationalist and royalist group, as well as the neo-fascist Bastion Social.
Theories behind the disappearance of Émile Soleil
ACCIDENT: Did Emile drive away on a highway before colliding with a car or tractor, killing or injuring him? Police found traces of blood on the front of a vehicle on Wednesday, but it turned out to be from an animal.
TO KIDNAP: Someone put Émile in a vehicle and took him away from Haut-Vernet? Police have confirmed that they are exploiting phone technology to track the movement of locals. The so-called ‘triangulation’ was sanctioned out of fear that someone might have kidnapped Émile from the village, which is made up of just 20 houses with 25 permanent residents.
A STRANGER: Could someone have rushed in and out of the village, before disappearing with Émile, unseen? An investigator confirmed that “records of all known child sex offenders in the area are being examined.”
A SOLO WALK: Did Émile manage to walk through the thick field, before falling asleep in the undergrowth? Investigators do not believe the two-year-old boy got very far and was found during the extensive four-day search of nearby fields and woods.
WILD ANIMAL: Was the little boy attacked by an animal, such as a wolf, and then dragged off? If so, it is likely that there was a trace of Émile’s blood or remnants of clothing, but nothing has been found.
Three years later, in 2021, both Mr. Soleil and his wife, Marie Soleil, who is also 20 years old, ran as candidates in the local elections in the Marseille area.
They supported the Reconquista party of Éric Zemmour, the convicted racist and Islamophobic who tried to become president of France last year.
Their electoral slogans at the time identified them as ‘friends of Éric Zemmour’ who wanted to ‘clean up the system’.
A source involved in the search for Émile said: “You make a lot of enemies when you are allied with Eric Zemmour and groups like Action Francaise and Bastion Social.”
No theory of Émile’s disappearance has been ruled out, so of course this background is being examined. It may be that a kidnapping is related to political enemies.
Both parents were verbally attacked this week by former French Family and Children’s Minister Ségolène Royal, who confirmed that Soleil had “a very worrying profile”.
Ms Royal, herself a mother of four, tweeted: ‘Mother questioned only on Tuesday? And the father, with a very worrying profile?
‘So, we don’t look at the theory of a family problem or revenge? A kidnapping? Why isn’t the hijack alert triggered yet? How sad.’
The field search for the missing Émile was called off Wednesday night after four days.
Hundreds of gendarmes, policemen and volunteers had taken part in a vast operation hitting fields and bushes, and examining them from the air.
Local prosecutor Rémy Avon said the “physical search” could go no further, because there was “no sign” of Émile.
But he added: “The judicial investigation into the causes of the disappearance will continue, in particular by analyzing the considerable mass of information and elements collected in the last four days.”
He said that the possibilities that Émile had been killed, kidnapped or involved in an accident were being analysed.
“All these theories are active,” Mr Avon said. Nothing has been ruled out.
The searches have so far brought together 800 gendarmes, firefighters, volunteers, helicopters, drones with thermal cameras and sniffer dogs.
Gendarmes meticulously search the outskirts of the town of Vernet on July 13, 2023. They have not been able to locate the child.
Cameras follow a gendarme during his search, as some fifty mobile gendarmes from Gap examine ‘1.8 km of road’ in France on July 13, 2023.
He confirmed that Émile’s parents’ home in the southern town of La Bouilladisse, near Marseille, was searched by police on Monday.
The parents had lived in the house for a year, along with Émile and his baby sister, who was born earlier this year.
“They are a very traditional family, elevated Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass to the modern one,” another investigative source said. ‘The parents are passionate about the sacred music of the church.’
Police also revealed that there were at least 10 other family members in the Vernet home at the time of Émile’s disappearance.
A police source said: ‘A family gathering was taking place, with various aunts and uncles of the boy, of all ages, including some minors. Émile was seen on Saturday morning, along with other children.
The village was locked down by police on Tuesday, preventing anyone new from entering as phones were confiscated and houses searched.
Helicopters have broadcast the desperate voice of Émile’s mother across the mountainous region in an attempt to find her missing son “who was always chasing butterflies”.
Despite all this, Avon said: “At the moment we have no clue, no information, no element that can help us understand this disappearance.”
Avon made it clear that as the investigation continues, “no one is above suspicion.”
The saga is reminiscent of the BBC series The Missing, in which a young boy goes missing while on holiday with his family in France, only to be killed in a hit-and-run accident after chasing a fox.
Émile’s family are devout Catholics and have called on people to pray to Benoîte Rencurel, a French pastor who is said to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary from 1664 to 1718.
A walker passes in front of gendarmes who rest for a few moments before continuing with the raking on July 13
Volunteers take part in a search operation for Emile, two and a half years old, last seen on July 8.
Two gendarmes thoroughly search the surroundings of a house in search of the missing young man
Police have released a photo and description of Emile, who is almost four feet tall with brown eyes and blonde hair.
At the time of her disappearance, she was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts with a green pattern, and walking shoes.
Meanwhile, Vernet residents have referred to the place as a cursed “town of the damned” due to its ties to the disaster.
In March 2015, Vernet was also cordoned off after a horrific plane crash that killed 150 people, including two babies.
The Germanwings Airbus A320 was deliberately shot down by co-pilot Andrés Lubitz, who had previously been treated for suicidal tendencies.
Many Vernet residents participated in the search for possible survivors in the high mountains at the time.
They also opened their homes to family and friends of those who perished in the disaster.
Vernet residents were also shocked by the murder of the manager of a local cafe in the village 15 years ago.
Jeannette Grosos, who ran the Café du Moulin, was brutally murdered by a patron in 2008.
Mayor François Balique said: “It was a real drama for the whole town, one that has had a hard time recovering.”
A Vernat resident said Wednesday: “Everyone says it: Vernet feels like a doomed town.”
The kind of phone trace methods police are now implementing in Vernet helped catch the killers of fellow British Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 10th Earl of Shaftesbury, in a nearby field in 2005.
He disappeared in France in November 2004, before his lifeless body was found at the bottom of a ravine in the foothills of the Alps near Cannes.
Telephone triangulation then placed his estranged wife, Jamila M’Barek, and her brother, Mohamed M’Barek, in the area, and both were later convicted of Lord Shaftesbury’s murder.