Hopes fade for April as police divers search river
As dawn broke in the small market town of Machynlleth yesterday, the mood among its 2,000 residents was one of determination.
Scores of them had already assembled at Bro Ddyfi leisure centre, impatient to carry on the search for five-year-old April Jones that had gone on until late into the night before.
For the Welsh valley community, the abduction of April as she played near her home after school on Monday evening was barely comprehensible, and her friends and neighbours vowed not to rest until they found her.
But by last night, with the announcement that police had arrested 46-year-old Mark Bridger on suspicion of abduction without any sign of the schoolgirl, the mood had changed to desperation.
Police coastguards gathered on the banks of the River Dulas to the north of the town, searching the water, and despite requests to the public for further searches of outbuildings in the hope of finding April alive, hope was quickly fading.
Less than 24 hours earlier, April had been playing on her bike with her next-door neighbour Milly May Parker between a row of lock-up garages near their homes on the Bryn-y-gog estate.
April's parents, Paul and Coral Jones, had been at a parents' evening at her primary school and were expecting her home for tea shortly after 7pm.
But after several other children playing with April and Milly had gone home, a man in a light-coloured vehicle -- either a Land Rover or a van -- pulled up at the garages and said something to April, who willingly climbed in on the driver's side.
When April failed to return home as expected, her parents are understood to have gone looking for her, and Milly told them what had happened.
Mr Jones (43) and his 40-year-old wife, who married only two months ago after many years together, dialled 999 to report their daughter missing, and told police they had their suspicions about who the kidnapper might be.
By 10.40pm, Dyfed-Powys Police had put out a statement saying they were "increasingly concerned" for April, and as news spread around Machynlleth, pubs in the town emptied as the local population put together search parties and combed the area late into the night.
Among them were April's 16-year-old sister Jasmine and nine-year-old brother Harley, while their parents waited at home for any news.
The local petrol station re-opened its pumps so that searchers could fill up their cars and 4x4s. Many of the 200 searchers caught only a couple of hours sleep before they were back out again yesterday morning, impatient to rejoin the searches.
Locals were starting to get frustrated at the lack of urgency from the police in organising more searches, and were puzzled by the lack of door-to-door inquiries.
What they did not know was that the police were convinced the man they were looking for was Mr Bridger, a father of six whose three former wives and girlfriends all lived within walking distance of April's home.
He was known to have a van matching the description given by Milly. With no sign of their suspect, the police announced that April's parents would be speaking at a press conference at 4.30pm, but when the time came, it was only Det Supt Bevan and one of his colleagues who appeared.
Det Supt Bevan announced that "within the last hour" a 46-year-old man had been arrested, on foot, just north of Machynlleth, and that a vehicle matching the one they were looking for had been found.
Ominously, there was no sign of April. He expressed hope that the man under arrest would help them locate her.
But Det Supt Bevan's hopes appeared to have been in vain. As darkness approached, police divers, coastguards and search teams on foot were searching the water and riverbanks of the River Dulas, near where Mr Bridger's car had been found. (© Daily Telegraph, London)