Six-year-old Arian has been missing for more than three weeks. Hundreds of emergency services searched intensively for the boy for a week. Today the search continues. An expert in missing person cases explains what could have happened – and what he would have done differently in the Arian case.

Arian was only wearing socks, a long-sleeved shirt and pants when he left his parents’ house. That was on April 22nd. Since then, there has been no trace of the six-year-old from Bremervörde in Lower Saxony.

For a week, hundreds of emergency responders and volunteers searched day and night on land, air and water for Arian. Dogs, a cavalry squadron, helicopters, drones, a tornado plane and boats were used. But the boy didn’t show up again.

Now, around two weeks later, the police are making a new attempt. Teams of investigators will go from house to house together with the riot police on Wednesday and question the neighbors. The officers also want to search the nearby Oste River again.

The publicist Peter Jamin, who has been dealing with the topic of “missing people” for more than 25 years and has been advising relatives on a voluntary basis, is following the Arian case closely. “Now only Inspector Chance can help,” he says to FOCUS online.

The expert, who has written several books, believes the chance of finding the six-year-old alive after more than three weeks is very low. “If Arian is still wandering around in the area, he will almost die of thirst or starvation,” he says.

Jamin has dealt with numerous missing person cases over the past decades. A few times he was involved in clarifying them himself. In his assessment, there are “four scenarios” as to what could have happened to Arian.

“Firstly, he’s wandering around. Secondly, something happened at his home, which I think is unlikely,” he says. Finally, there are recordings from a surveillance camera that show the boy running into a neighboring forest.

The third option, Jamin explains, would be a crime. For example, Arian could have been kidnapped, imprisoned or – in the worst case scenario – killed. “The fourth possibility is that the six-year-old had an accident, for example fell into the water and drowned.”

The responsible Rotenburg police are currently investigating in all directions. According to spokesman Heiner van der Werp, the investigators assume that Arian ran to the east and passed a forest. They don’t rule out an accident, just as they don’t rule out a crime. Even if there is currently no concrete evidence for the latter scenario.

Missing persons expert Jamin generally praises the police work in the Arian case. “But what irritated me was that the officers called off the first search operation after a week,” he says. “In my opinion that was too early. Back then, the chances of finding Arian alive were even better.”

Jamin also believes it was a mistake that police relied on residents to search for Arian on private property. “People were called upon to check whether he was hiding in their homes. But you often become blind to your familiar surroundings.”

Experts are often more attentive to such maneuvers and know better where to look than laypeople. “Especially when small children disappear, you basically have to open every refrigerator and every door,” he says.

Nevertheless, Jamin does not believe the “private” search is pointless. In his eyes it just has to be different. “I asked people in the area to go on family walks as early as May 1, about a week after Arians disappeared,” he says.

Jamin uses an example to explain how effective it can be when ordinary citizens search for missing people – outside of their home environment. Years ago he was involved in a disturbing case himself. A woman disappeared after visiting a friend. She rode her bike to see her.

The family contacted the police, but they did not immediately look for the woman. The basic rule is: people over 18 who are in full possession of their mental and physical strength are allowed to decide for themselves where they stay. You do not have to inform your relatives if you are going away for a few days, for example.

In many cases it is therefore not surprising if the police advise waiting for the time being. A search can only begin if the missing person has left their usual living environment, their current whereabouts are unknown and it can be assumed that there is a risk to life or limb.

Jamin drove to the missing woman’s relatives. “The family put together a private search party and distributed leaflets throughout the region,” he said. In this way, the population was made aware of the “case”. And indeed: Days later, a couple while walking noticed a bicycle frame on the side of the path.

“They found the missing woman nearby, seriously injured. She had been attacked,” says Jamin. “This shows that it is good to remain active, even independently of the police.”

In his opinion, it was similar with the “Miracle of Oldenburg,” which is often mentioned in connection with the Arian case. Just like Arian, little Joe was missing for several days in 2022. A walker eventually found the eight-year-old boy because he heard whimpering under a manhole cover. Joe climbed into a pipe while playing and became disoriented in the sewer.

“This is also evidence of how important private searches are,” says Jamin. “The passerby was sensitized.”

In response to a FOCUS online request, the Oldenburg police wrote that “until he was found, there was always hope of finding Joe alive.” Even if the case was unusual. “As a rule, missing children and young people can be found quickly and handed over to the care of their legal guardians,” said the Oldenburg police.

This is also shown by a look at the numbers. In 2023, around 16,500 children up to and including 13 years of age were reported missing. This emerges from a report by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). Around 15,800 cases were resolved over the course of the year. Looking at the past six years, the clearance rate is even 99.8 percent.

The few “unsolved” cases include not only possible victims of the most serious crimes or accidents, but also “cases of child abduction and cases of so-called unaccompanied refugee children who have been lost from their accommodation facilities” as well as “cases of long-term runaways/strays”.

According to Jamin, missing children are often found not far from their homes. They sometimes behave like older people with dementia who run away, he says. Even if such search maneuvers always end tragically.

“In Düsseldorf, for example, a 78-year-old disappeared from a nursing home. They searched extensively for her, but couldn’t find her. Weeks later her body turned up – very close to the retirement home.”

In Arian’s case, the hope of finding the boy alive diminishes with every day that he goes missing. Jamin has seen what such incidents do to families. They don’t know what happened to the loved one who disappeared from the scene.

Jamin describes the uncertainty as a terrible experience. “I know families where their daughter has been missing for 25 years. There is no body, no funeral, no closure.”

The author believes that if Arian is not found, his relatives will face a lifelong ordeal. “At some point the support from the police ends and the many helpers withdraw. Then mother and father sit alone at the kitchen table, alone with their uncertainty. That’s the horror.”

This is also why Jamin advocates expanding care for relatives and providing appropriate advice centers. “In Emden there is the only municipal advice center for relatives of missing people. “She works with the ‘Missing in Lower Saxony’ association,” he explains.

“There must be something like this everywhere in Germany. The families of missing people are too often left in the lurch.”