The man accused in the disappearance of 8-year-old Maëlys de Araujo at a wedding in the French Alps goes on trial Monday in Grenoble. Dog trainer Nordahl Lelandais, who is accused of kidnapping and killing Maëlys, faces up to life in prison if convicted, reports the AP. The search for Maëlys, and the gruesome discovery of her body six months later after Lelandais allegedly admitted to killing her, gripped France and tore the girl’s family apart. Lelandais had not originally been invited to the wedding on Aug. 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 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, an Audi A3, 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 reportedly confessed: "This poor little girl, I killed her involuntarily," he said, per 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. In Maëlys, a book written by the girl’s mother, Jennifer De Araujo, with a journalist, she looks back on the six months of waiting and "hoping," receiving scattered leads—and then a feeling of "dying" when the examining magistrate announced “a drop of blood found in the trunk.” The parents separated, and sold their house. The verdict in the trial over the girl’s murder is expected on Feb. 18.
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