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Man tried over killing eight-year-old girl in France

GRENOBLE, FRANCE (AP) – It started with the disappearance of eight-year-old Maëlys de Araujo at a wedding in the French Alps. After a massive search that drew nationwide attention, investigators identified a wedding guest as the main suspect.

But that was just the beginning: The investigation led authorities to suspect the man in other crimes around France.

Dog trainer Nordahl Lelandais went on trial yesterday in Grenoble accused of kidnapping and killing Maëlys. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

The search for Maëlys, and the gruesome discovery of her body six months later after Lelandais admitted to killing her, gripped France and tore the girl’s family apart.

Lelandais had not originally been invited to the wedding on August 26, 2017, in the town of Pont-de-Beauvoisin. But he had phoned the groom the day before, who said Lelandais could come to the reception.

Lelandais showed up around midnight for dessert – and to provide cocaine to two guests who had asked him for it, according to witness accounts seen by The Associated Press (AP).

The father of Maelys, Joachim de Araujo and his wife Jennifer hold a press conference in Lyon, central France. PHOTO: AP

He invited Maëlys to see his dogs, so she got in his car to look at them, according to investigators. Around 3am, the girl’s mother alerted wedding guests that she was missing, and they started searching for her in vain.

Investigation of the suspect’s phone found that he put it on “airplane mode” twice that night. His car was spotted by a video surveillance camera at 2.47am with a small passenger, according to the investigation documents.

Lelandais then returned to the wedding, seemingly unconcerned about Maëlys while everyone else was looking for her, according to witness accounts. He left the wedding before the police arrived at 4.15am.

He was identified as a suspect within days. For the next six months, he denied any involvement in the disappearance of Maëlys despite evidence accumulating against him.

Then in February 2018, after a trace of blood was discovered in the trunk of his car thanks to extensive scientific analysis, Lelandais confessed to investigators: “This poor little girl, I killed her involuntarily,” he said, apologising to the parents, according to investigators. He told police where to find her body, and they dug up the child’s small bones in a forest.

Lelandais told investigators that Maëlys started crying in an “incomprehensible” way and that he punched her several times violently in the face, without intending to kill her.

“I don’t know what happened in my head,” he said.