Simon Lembi went missing from his home in Saint-Gilles in Brussels in 1999, aged only 14. Now, 20 years on, he has been found alive and well. His was one of the first faces to appear on a missing persons poster by Child Focus (photo), created the year before after the shock of the Marc Dutroux case, which came to light in 1996 and where six missing girls were found, only two of them alive, and the White March, which brought 100,000 people onto the streets of Brussels to protest against police inaction.
Over the course of those 20 years, many more faces have appeared on Child Focus posters. Some 15,000 missing children and young people have been found. Some of them had not survived; most had. Others remain missing to this day. Simon’s case offered little hope: the boy had arrived in Belgium from Angola only days before, had no friends or other contacts here, and spoke little or no French.
But as Alain Remue points out, Simon’s case proves that it’s never time to give up hope. Remue is the head of the Missing Persons unit of the federal police. He took the call in November last year that informed him Simon was alive and well. The call came from someone who had recognised him from his poster, which has used computer technology in some cases to artificially age young people who went missing a long time ago,
Remue had the story checked out, and found it was true.
Simon, it now appears, had left home at 14 of his own accord, because of the atmosphere at home. He has made a life for himself, and has now asked that the details be kept private. He has adopted a new name, and that as well as his place of residence and other identifying details remain confidential.
“An unbelievable result,” Remue called it. Interviewed by the VRT he said, “It’s almost impossible to believe this could happen, but it’s proof that you must never rule anything out.”
Most missing children cases either resolve within days or not at all. “I remember a case from years ago,” Remue said. “A Walloon girl held out for 13 months. That was improbably at the time, but this? This is more than improbable.”