MONTREAL — One year to the day after a young boy went missing in north-end Montreal, his photo reappeared across the city Tuesday as supporters marked the sad anniversary and attempted to provide answers to his distraught family.
Ariel Jeffrey Kouakou never returned home after setting out on foot to visit a friend on March 12, 2018.
The search for the 10-year-old gripped the city, and on the anniversary of his disappearance, Ariel's photo appeared on electronic screens in the city's 68 subway stations as a reminder that he was never found.
The photo will also appear across Canada in May on envelopes used to mail CIBC Visa bills, an initiative with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Pina Arcamone, director general of the Missing Children's Network, said the aim is to shed light on the case and offer comfort to Ariel's family.
"We need to get an answer to the family. Whether it's good or bad, the family needs to know definitively what happened to their missing loved one," she said. "We are attempting to find the truth so we can have a family stop searching."
Ariel left home to visit a friend who lived nearby, but there was nobody home. Surveillance cameras captured him entering a park on the banks of the Riviere des Prairies not far from his home, but he was not seen leaving the park.
Montreal police have said they believe the boy likely drowned accidentally. One witness described as credible by police said she saw Ariel near the water before he went missing. Police divers searched the river but found no trace of the young boy.
The boy’s father, Frederic Kouakou, repeatedly said he believed his son was abducted and that he would never have ventured near the river. He sought to persuade Montreal officials to set up a special squad to investigate abductions, and he maintains hope that Ariel will return.
Arcamone said the family is strong, united and surrounded by support, but they continue to struggle.
"Our home is empty without you," Frederic Kouakou said in a statement issued through the network. "We ache to hold you in our arms once again." He thanked Montreal police and the public for the "outpouring of love" and support the family has received in the past year.
Kouakou and his wife, Akouena Noella Bibie, are scheduled to attend a mass organized in honour of Ariel Tuesday evening at Saint-Joseph-de-Bordeaux church in the north-end Ahuntsic-Cartierville neighbourhood.
Police briefly issued an Amber Alert after Ariel vanished, even though there was no evidence of an abduction. They did so after taking into account Ariel's young age, the cold weather at the time and the fact he had no history of running away.
Rewards were offered, police received hundreds of tips and numerous searches were conducted in the area, but they all came up empty.