x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Wild child who walked out of German forest identified as young Dutchman

The man is a 20-year-old resident of the Netherlands who left home without a word nine months ago.

THE HAGUE // A mysterious "forest boy" who turned up in Berlin last year claiming to have lived in the woods for years is in fact a young Dutch man who left home without a word nine months ago, police said Friday.

"I can confirm that he is a boy of 20 from Hengelo," a city in northwestern Netherlands, a spokeswoman for the local police, Chantal Westerhoff, told AFP.

Berlin police also said that the young man had finally confessed to having made up the whole story.

He left his home in September 2011 without telling his father or stepmother where he was going and the couple alerted the police to his absence, Westerhoff said.

"They told us they were concerned," she said.

In a tale that captured the world's imagination, the then teenager turned up at Berlin city hall on September 5, 2011, saying that his first name was Ray and that he had lived in the woods with his father for five years.

Speaking English and only a few words of German, the boy said his father had died suddenly in August and that after burying him in the woods he walked north for five days to reach Berlin.

The police never found a body, had trouble believing his tale and on Tuesday released his photograph with a plea for information on the case.

He was identified after a friend of his from Hengelo, a city of 80,000 near the German border, recognised him and alerted the authorities who in turn contacted the German police.

Local police then got in touch with his stepmother -- his father died earlier this year -- and she confirmed his identity.

"His stepmother could recognise him 100 percent," the spokeswoman said, but did not disclose the family's name or any other details, citing "protection of privacy."

"In the Netherlands, when you're an adult you can leave your home and it's not a problem when you're not a danger to yourself or others," she said. "He was 19 years old when he left, he could do what he wanted."

Dutch television quoted people who recognised him as saying that he had had "personal problems".

On Tuesday police in the German capital sent a picture of a smiling blond teenager wearing a T-shirt and a gold necklace to news outlets asking for help in getting to the bottom of the mystery story.

"Ray" had said his mother "Doreen" had died in a car accident, which he also did not remember, when he was 12 and that he assumed scars on his face were incurred in the crash.

After a brief stint with Berlin's emergency youth services, Ray was placed in an institution for assisted living and assigned a legal guardian.

Youth services and police had "great doubts" about his story and decided to publicise his picture and seek information that could help them solve the case.

"The man has acknowledged that he invented the story," a Berlin police spokesman said Friday.

The case aroused great interest in the German media, which likened it to the mystery of Caspar Hauser, a teenager who appeared on the streets on Nuremberg in 1828 with no explanation of his origins.