Joe: Missing eight-year-old found alive in Oldenburg after eight days


Joe: Missing eight-year-old found alive in Oldenburg after eight days
Police officers examine the gully in Oldenburg from which Joe was rescued.PHOTO: ANDRE VAN ELTEN/DPA

Joe had disappeared without a trace for more than a week. Now for the relieving news: he is alive. He was found in a storm drain. Now there are many questions.

After eight days of searching, on Saturday morning came the relieving news that the missing boy had been found alive in a storm drain: "!!!!The 8-year-old # Joe is alive!!!! ", tweeted the police in Oldenburg in the morning.

The many exclamation marks express what not only the officers, but the whole city and many people in Germany feel: "We are so happy—really!", said police spokesman Stephan Klatte. On social media, the news spread furiously.

A walker had heard a soft whimpering coming from the direction of a manhole cover in a residential neighborhood in the city's Donnerschwee district around 6:20 a.m. and notified police, fire, and rescue services. When they opened the heavy lid, they found the little boy. The child was found to be mentally handicapped, only a few hundred meters away from its parents' house. He was also last seen in the district, in the area of the former barracks.

However, in recent days, the search was also conducted in the neighboring district of Ammerland, after witnesses claimed to have seen the boy in a strawberry field near a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Bad Zwischenahn.

The police did not rule out that Joe could understand the search as a kind of hiding game. They therefore opened old clothing containers in the Oldenburg city area—perhaps Joe had crawled inside.

Many volunteers participated in the search for Joe.

The search shifted the entire region. Volunteers roamed the city, and the volunteer fire department assisted officials. Businesses and clubs shared the search calls.

The question of where the mentally disabled eight-year-old Joe might have gone was on the minds of people across Germany. The pictures that were circulated showed a child with a curly head, beaming happily into the camera.

But the longer the futile search lasted, the more the fear of not finding him alive increased. Police also took aim at the possibility of a violent crime. A homicide squad was set up following a witness tip-off.

The relief in Oldenburg is great.

So now the relief of the happy ending is all the greater. Joe was outwardly unharmed when the police freed him from the gully, Klatte said. But he was clearly hypothermic due to the chill of the night. He was immediately taken to a hospital for care and also to be examined.

But the fact that Joe was finally found doesn't mean that police have now completed their investigation. There are still many questions, chief among them: how did Joe get into the manhole?

A manhole cover is very heavy—what happened?

Even a strong adult can't easily lift the lid, which weighs tens of kilograms. The police spokesman explained that it is conceivable that the child climbed into the tunnel maze at another point in the branching sewer system and crawled through the tubes.

"Some of the sewer pipes are so narrow, no adult can get through," Klatte said. Now investigators plan to use cameras in the sewer system to look for clues to trace the path Joe might have taken. But police also have not yet shelved the other possible explanation, that a crime was committed, Klatte said. It's conceivable, then, that someone intentionally placed Joe in the manhole. "We will continue to keep an eye on this possibility as well," the police spokesman emphasized.