'Everything has changed -- the town's innocence is gone'
THE pretty market town of Machynlleth at the tip of the Snowdonia National Park has long proved a draw for those desperate to escape the pressures of urban life.
Those newcomers helped turn the town into a centre of alternative living, arts, crafts and vegetarian cafes.
But last Monday evening the town's notion of itself as an innocent haven, a strong community where everyone looked out for each other, was shaken to its core.
As darkness fell, April Jones was out playing with friends on the estate on the outskirts of town, enjoying the kind of freedom that has persuaded many young families to decamp to this rainy, beautiful corner of mid-Wales.
The disappearance of the five-year-old elicited an unprecedented police search and brought hundreds of volunteers from all over the country to help scour the surrounding hills in the increasingly forlorn hope of finding her.
Since the first satellite truck parked up on Tuesday morning, the town has been under a media siege. Film crews have taken up residence in the local sports hall, which has been transformed into the nerve centre of the volunteer search operation.
As news that the abduction inquiry had become a murder investigation swept through the town -- now wreathed in pink bows, a symbol of hope and determination to find April -- people wept openly. Those who had hitherto been happy to answer reporters' questions were too upset to talk.
In the Red Lion pub, five days without finding April persuaded locals to question whether police had perhaps concentrated their efforts in the wrong place. Landlady Claire Owen worried about what it would mean for the community. "Everything has changed -- children playing outside, people leaving their doors unlocked. Bryn-y-Gog (where April lived) was like that. The innocence of the town has gone. Once you lose innocence you don't get it back." (© Independent News Service)