A desperate search for a missing 4-year-old boy that fanned across two countries came to a grim conclusion Tuesday as police announced that the boy’s “lifeless body” was discovered near a theme park five days after he was allegedly abducted by his babysitter.
Dutch police announced that they found the remains of Belgian toddler Dean Verberckmoes late Monday, days after his “terrified” mother issued a gut-wrenching public plea for the kidnapper to bring her boy home.
Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reports that the boy’s remains were found in an abandoned area of Neeltje Jans, an artificial island with a theme park in the Netherlands’ Zeeland province that is popular with tourists. He was reportedly hidden between boulders in a remote parking spot near the waterfront.
The area is about 60 miles from Verberckmoes’ home in Sint Niklass, across the Belgian border.
Investigators have reportedly worked at the scene throughout the night, with black screens erected around the area to keep it from public view. A hearse thought to be carrying the 4-year-old’s body departed from the area at around 7 a.m. local time, according to HLN.
The shock over the boy’s death has been overshadowed only by anger at his alleged abductor—his longtime babysitter, who set alarm bells off last week after failing to drop the boy off at his grandparents’ house. The boy was then reported missing on Jan. 12.
As search efforts grew more frantic and an Amber Alert was issued in the Netherlands, the boy’s mother, Elke Verberckmoes, pleaded directly with his captor to bring him back.
“I try to keep strong, but I’m actually terrified. All I want now is to be reunited with my little apple of my eye. Possibly put him at the door and then drive away, but take my son home,” she was quoted saying by HLN.
She recalled that the last words he’d spoken to her, as he waved goodbye, were: “Hello mom, I’m going to miss you.”
The pleas were all in vain, however, as Dutch police delivered a gut-punch in a statement late Monday: “The police investigation pointed to a possible crime scene [on Neeltje Jans] on Monday evening,” and after a helicopter joined in search efforts, “the lifeless body of a child was found.”
“The mother of the child has been informed of the bad news by the Belgian police,” a spokesman for the Brabant police said in local media.
Dutch police have formally identified the suspect only as Dave De K., saying they arrested him Monday in the town of Meerkerk, about 75 miles from where the body was found.
— HLN.BE (@HLN_BE) January 18, 2022
The toddler’s mother told local media the man had regularly watched her two kids, who she said “always said they’d mucked about and played games with him.”
Belgian prosecutors say the man had previously served a prison sentence for acts of child abuse that led to the death of a 2-year-old boy. He was released in 2018. It was not immediately clear if the toddler’s mother was aware of the babysitter’s record.
She had earlier expressed shock at the fact that he would kidnap her son in comments to Belgian media, saying she had first met the babysitter after becoming acquainted with his girlfriend while undergoing treatment for depression at a local psychiatric hospital.
“We got along well and spoke almost daily. Every Wednesday they took care of my two children, so that my own mother could be relieved. Dave had the best bond with Dean,” she told HLN.
Dutch media have reported that the suspect’s girlfriend has also been arrested in the case, though no further details of charges against her were immediately available.