French police searching for two-year-old Chayson Basinio knew it was a race against time to find the missing child, who had reportedly disappeared from a supermarket car park.
An inquiry for kidnapping and sequestration was opened and police divers dredged a lake, fearing the child may have drowned.
As the days passed without any leads or clues, detectives at Moulins in the Auvergne prepared to warn relatives who had alerted them that they could find no trace of the boy.
Which, in the circumstances, was hardly surprising.
In fact, neither Chayson Basinio nor his parents existed — except in the virtual world of social media.
Police had found photographs allegedly of the boy and his father, Rayane Basinio on Facebook, but no evidence that they were real.
Public Prosecutor Eric Mazaud said the investigation had changed, but charges would be made.
“It [the inquiry] was long and complicated, but we can now say that the young Chayson has never existed and nor have his father or mother,” Mazaud said.
The boy was reported missing on Friday last week by a woman who claimed to be the boy’s great-aunt.
She told officers she had last seen the child the previous week near a supermarket and believed he had been kidnapped.
Detectives continued to search for the boy, but became suspicious after noting inconsistencies in her story.
Police said her teenage daughter and a cousin who are believed to have set up the false Facebook account and pirated pictures from other accounts on the site were also being questioned.
Mauzaud said the imaginary family had been created several months ago.