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Missing Teen Alex Batty Returns to U.K. After Vanishing 6 Years Ago in Spain, When He Was 11
“I can't wait to see him when we're reunited," said Susan Caruana, the grandmother of now-17-year-old Alex Batty.
British teenager Alex Batty was discovered alive in France after vanishing while vacationing in Spain with family more than six years ago, according to authorities.
Batty, who was 11 years old when he went missing in 2017, was found near the southern French city of Toulouse on December 13, the Greater Manchester Police said in a press release Friday. Batty, who is now 17, was formally identified by officials and has since returned to the UK, investigators said in an update over the weekend.
Where was Alex Batty during the six years he was missing?
Details regarding his exact whereabouts for more than half a decade are still shrouded in mystery. Batty, however, told French officials he’d spent the past six years living a nomadic life in “spiritual communities” with his mother and grandfather in Spain, Morocco and France.
“It gives me great pleasure to say Alex has now made his safe return back to the UK after six years,” Matt Boyle, assistant chief constable with the Greater Manchester Police, told reporters at a press conference on Saturday, according to The Guardian.
What was Alex Batty doing when he was found?
Batty was found by French motorist Fabien Accidini wandering in the rain on the side of the road at around 3 a.m. last Wednesday, CNN reported. The teen told the 26-year-old chiropractic student he’d been hiking in the mountainous stretches of rural south France for more than four days in an attempt to get back to England.
“During the first few minutes, he seemed a little shy,” Accidini recalled. “We tried to speak in French but I noticed that he had not mastered the language. I decided to communicate in English.”
Accidini said Batty told him his first name was “Zach.” Batty, who Accidini described as tall and blond, wore black jeans, a white sweater, a backpack, and had a skateboard tucked under his arm. After Batty revealed his true identity, Accidini searched for his name online and offered to take him to a police station.
“He really missed his loved ones,” Accidini added.
Police said Batty met with a relative and Greater Manchester officers at an airport in Toulouse before flying back to the U.K.
“This moment was undoubtedly huge for him and his loved ones, and we are glad that they have been able to see each other again after all this time,” Boyle added.
When did Alex Batty go missing?
Batty disappeared while traveling with his mother, Melanie Batty, 43, and grandfather, David Batty, 64, during what was supposed to be a vacation to Spain in 2017. His mother and grandfather did not have parental custody of him at the time. Batty is originally from Oldham in Greater Manchester, police said.
What happened to Melanie and David Batty?
The whereabouts of both Melanie and David are unknown. Prosecutors have suggested Batty’s mother may be in Finland. David died six months ago, Batty told investigators, but David's death hasn’t been formally verified.
It’s unclear if authorities will now open a criminal probe into Batty’s disappearance.
As of his return last week, Greater Manchester Police hadn’t yet obtained a formal statement from the formerly missing teen.
“Speaking with him [Alex] at a pace that feels comfortable to him will ultimately determine how this case has progressed, and whether there is a criminal investigation to ensue,” Boyle added. “Our continued focus is supporting Alex and his family, in partnership with other local agencies — to ensure that they are safe, their wellbeing is looked after, and his reintegration with society is as easy as possible.”
Previously, Batty’s maternal grandmother accused Melanie and David Batty of getting the teenager “involved with a cult,” The Guardian reported. Prosecutors, however, have pushed back on that assertion, insisting the teen had been living in an “itinerant spiritual community.” The teen claimed the group were vagabonds and consisted of about 10 people. Batty wasn’t receiving a formal education at this time, authorities added.
Assistant public prosecutor Antoine Leroy described Batty as “calm” and “very intelligent,” but cautioned the teen was likely suffering from the “psychological consequences” of the ordeal.
Officials said Batty’s family had been notified. He’s expected to be placed in the custody of his grandmother, Susan Caruana, his legal guardian, according to a France 24 report.
"I cannot begin to express my relief and happiness that Alex has been found safe and well," Caruana said in a statement released through Greater Manchester Police, The BBC reported. "I spoke with him last night and it was so good to hear his voice and see his face again. I can't wait to see him when we're reunited."
Batty will turn 18 in February, according to The Guardian.
"The main thing is that he's safe, after what would be an overwhelming experience for anyone, not least a child," Caruana added.