MONTREAL — A young boy who has been missing since March 12 more than likely died in a tragic drowning accident after falling into a river, Montreal police said Thursday.
Insp. Ian Lafreniere said 10-year-old Ariel Jeffrey Kouakou was last seen near Riviere des Prairies and that there are no images of him elsewhere after that.
"I can't tell you beyond all doubt that it was an accident, but it's the most likely theory," he told The Canadian Press.
The boy's father has repeatedly said he believes his son was abducted and that he would never have gone to the river.
Frederic Kouakou said he was "astonished" to hear about the police theory, which he learned about through the media.
"For me, it's confusion, because my family and I, until proof to the contrary, maintain the theory of abduction," he told reporters.
He called on police and volunteers to "keep the flame" and to continue to investigate the possibility his son could be alive.
"We still haven't reached our objective, which is to find Ariel," he said.
Police divers searched the river on six different occasions this week but found no clues.
The boy left his home in the city's north end to visit a friend's house, and a witness spotted someone matching his description in a park shortly after.
His father said the boy's absence has devastated the entire family.
"The more the days pass, the more it's unbearable," he said.
His wife can no longer stay strong, he said, and his daycare-aged daughter recently asked him where her brother was.
"This question comes from a little girl," he said. "How can I comfort her? I don't have the words."
Besides the diving, police have gone door to door in the neighbourhood and used horses, the canine unit, all-terrain vehicles and a helicopter to search the area.
Police say they have received some 700 tips and that a command post is still in place at a shopping centre near where Ariel disappeared.
On Thursday, Lafreniere said police would maintain a "sporadic" presence on the water in the next few days.
The investigation continues, he said.
There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to the boy being found alive.
The Canadian Press