A Belgian journalist on his way to report on two missing girls found the children himself as he drove around trying to find the police search teams for an update.
Marco Mariotti, who works for Het Laatste Nieuws, had already written a story about missing girls who vanished in the Limburg municipality of Houthalen-Helchteren on Monday afternoon.
Police had appealed for help in finding 12-year-old Yoni Permentier and her 7-year-old sister Lyana after they left their home on the Grote Baan.
They said to have vanished without trace, and police search teams turned up to try and find them.
Prosecutor Anja de Schutter had said it was very worrying especially because they were “little girls”. The two had left with a small blue suitcase on wheels.
Talking about what happened, Marco said it was about 10 p.m. at night and he had just climbed into his car.
He said: “I was on my way to the parents home, since the girls had still not been found.”
He said he had been hoping to bump into the police search teams, and added: “I drove from Helchteren to the E314 in Houthalen. When I saw nothing there, I turned towards Eindhoven. ”
That was when he came across a surprise because in a remote region where there were no houses, just an empty parking lot, he said: “I suddenly saw two dark shadows walking out the corner of my eye. Although it was pitch dark, I saw that one person was slightly taller than the other. They also had wheeled luggage with them (the same sort that police said the missing kids had).”
He knew from the story he had written earlier that the kids had a bag and also had their description, and he called the police while walking over to the pair.
He said: “Of course they fled. A bit later then I heard something rustle in the bushes. I looked around and saw them lying on the floor, hidden. Despite the tall grass and the nettles between us, I could see them well. When they realized that I was watching them, they crawled further away.”
He said police told him to try and speak to them but not to frighten them, and he had remembered the older sister’s name. He had not told them he was a reporter, but said he had turned up to reassure them.
He said: “I told them everyone understood they had wanted to go for a walk, everyone was worried about them. I said that they didn’t need to be afraid, because nobody would be annoyed with them.”
He said that the younger girl seemed convinced and had stopped, but the older child had been suspicious and they had run off again.
A short while later police arrived, but an initial search failed to find the two.
But then he spotted them again and shouted out: “there they are” and a short while later the police found them hiding in a garden hut.
Marco added that once he found himself in a real-life situation he had stopped being a reporter, and also told his editorial team that he was stepping out of his reporting role in order to assist the police in the live search on the ground.
Only once they were safe, was he free to return to his reporting tasks.
He admitted: “The only thing on my mind was not to frighten the girls. It was all very emotional.”
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