Family of missing boy found dead "in shock and intensely sad"
The family of nine-year-old Gino van der Straeten is "in shock and intensely sad" that the boy missing since Wednesday has been found dead. It is a void that cannot be filled, read a statement shared on behalf of the family.
"Unfortunately, the police found Gino's lifeless body on Saturday. The grief is incomprehensible and terrible. The police will now continue the investigation, and will execute it with care, and prioritize finding out what happened and who was involved," the statement continued.
Judy op het Veld, the spokesperson for the family, was in Maastricht, where authorities officially confirmed that the missing boy had died. "The family had hope until the moment when the body needed to be identified.” She said, "They're together now. Terrible. The grief is immense. You can't imagine it."
The family thanked people for the "numerous heartwarming reactions" they received. "Gino must never be forgotten, and must be remembered as beautifully and as the sweet cheerful boy he was as best as possible," the statement continued. The family said they need time to grieve and process what happened.
The mayor of Kerkrade, Petra Dassen-Housen, said during the press conference in Maastricht that the hope that he was still alive among relatives and residents of the municipality of Kerkrade utterly vanished on Saturday. "Because Gino won't come home anymore. He will never play football again or feel the love of his family." The boy's family "must be permanently on our minds permanently," she said.
Hans Verheijen, the mayor of Sittard-Geleen, was saddened by the unexpected turn of events which happened in his municipality. "We feared the worst scenario in recent days. Many held out hope hope, searched and sympathized. It is intensely bitter that Gino's body was found in our Geleen community." He called it "a terrible blow to the family," and added, "Words fail me. An intense sadness overwhelms us."
Gino was last seen on Wednesday, when he went missing in the evening after going to play football at a playground in Kerkrade. His family and others searched for him all night and an Amber Alert was issued on Thursday. Since then, police and dozens of volunteers searchers scoured the surrounding area for the boy.
The search expanded beyond Kerkrade when a scooter resembling Gino’s was found near a swimming pool in Landgraaf, about eight kilometers away from where he disappeared. The scooter was found on Thursday, and on Friday, volunteers found an item of clothing in Kerkrade which may belong to the boy.
The work of volunteers and investigators led police to a 22-year-old suspect in Geleen, about 30 kilometers away from where Gino was staying. The suspect, believed to be named Donny M., was taken into custody early Saturday morning. Police said the suspect provided information that led police to the child’s body, but would not confirm M. as the individual involved. Authorities said both locations were the focus of the investigation later that afternoon.
"Many questions exist and an in-depth investigation will be necessary to obtain answers to all those questions," Verheijen said.
The suspect is expected to face a remand hearing early next week.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times