'Incomprehensible tragedy': Manhunt for father after deaths of daughters who were subject of Amber Alert
QUEBEC -- The Surete du Quebec (SQ) has confirmed that the bodies found by a search and rescue team in a wooded area of Saint-Apollinaire on Saturday are those of Romy and Norah Carpentier.
An Amber Alert had been issued for Romy, six, and Norah, 11, in Levis, south of Quebec City on Thursday. It was lifted earlier Saturday when the bodies were found. The girls had gone missing along with their father Martin Carpentier, 44, after a crash on Highway 20.
The search continues for the father. In a tweet Saturday night, the SQ wrote that all necessary resources had been deployed for the manhunt, including helicopters, ATV patrollers and dog handlers.
"The important thing currently, in mobilizing the population, is to be vigilant because we are actively looking for Martin Carpentier who could be in the Saint-Agapit, Saint-Apollinaire sector. Anyone who sees this individual is asked to contact 911 immediately," said SQ Srgt. Ann Mathieu.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted about the girls' deaths late Saturday night, calling the events an "incomprehensible tragedy for any parent."
"My heart breaks for the family and friends of Norah and Romy - I’m sending you my deepest condolences. Know that all Canadians are keeping you in their thoughts tonight," he wrote.
Premier Francois Legault joined many in the province in lamenting the news.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more details emerge.
ITEMS FOUND THAT MAY BE RELATED
SQ officers searching the Saint-Appollinaire area for the two girls and their father found some objects on Friday that they thought might suggest the girls were alive and on the move.
“We found some objects yesterday, but we can find a lot of different objects in the woods, so what we have to do right now is to be sure that those objects could be related to Martin Carpentier and his two daughters,” said Mathieu Saturday.
A command post was established on Friday on Veilleux Street, south of Rang Bois Joly.
Quebec provincial police ATV, horse, K-9 and foot patrols searched the heavily wooded area along with search and rescue volunteers since the Amber Alert began.
GIRLFRIEND MAKES DESPERATE PLEA
Martin Carpentier's girlfriend, Cathy Gingras, recorded a desperate plea to him on Friday morning, shared by the SQ on Twitter.
"Martin, we're worried. We haven't heard anything from you since the accident. We want to know if you're okay, and the girls, Romy, Norah. We want to know if they're okay... if you're okay. Give us some news, let us know, call your parents, whatever it is. The important thing is that you're all alright," she said. "We just want to know you're alright."
An SQ helicopter was deployed to search the wooded area.
The SQ also told CTV that it had received word that a neighbour heard screams in the middle of the night. But police wouldn't confirm if it was related to this case.
Premier Legault said Friday afternoon that about 80 people were involved in the search, both on the ground and in the air, and that the province had put all of its resources into finding the girls.
The three were last seen alive Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in the Saint-Nicholas neighbourhood of Levis, near a convenience store, police said.
At 9:30 p.m. a 2008 Volkswagen Passat with the licence plate P75 PXV was involved in a crash on Highway 20 east in nearby Saint-Apollinaire. When emergency services arrived, the vehicle was unoccupied.
Saint-Apollinaire Mayor Bernard Ouellet said the crash took place in a rural area about four kilometres from the main exit off the highway into town.
"There are many wooded areas -- many, many wooden areas -- but there are many rural roads, too. It's not completely isolated," said Ouellet about the territory around the crash site, which he added also contains several small cottages and shacks.
He said residents began searching their properties for any sign of the three.
"It's worrying everyone a little bit," he said.
DESPERATE PLEA FROM MOTHER
Their loved ones said after the crash that they have reason to be concerned for their health and safety. Authorities say they don't know the reason for the disappearance and have spoken to witnesses and family members.
"All the hypotheses are on the table, and kidnapping is among them," SQ spokesperson Audrey-Anne Bilodeau said Thursday, "but the priority for us is that we have missing people that could be injured."
WITNESS SAW CRASH, SEARCHED FOR MISSING FAMILY
A woman driving in the area, Lyne Provencher, said she witnessed the crash.
She said she saw a car headed toward Quebec City fly off the road, hit a sign and some trees, and then flip over.
"I was driving towards Montreal when I saw a cloud of dust and, boom, the car ended up in front of me suddenly," Provencher said, adding that she had to think fast to avoid a collision.
"I stopped on the side of the road and I ran to see if there were people inside – nobody," she said, adding that three people called authorities at the same time.
"We were screaming and panicking," she said.
When firefighters arrived, they used spotlights to search the area.
"Only Martin's cell phone was in the car," she said. "His stepfather called saying he was waiting for Martin to arrive, and that he's told him he was going for ice cream with his daughters," adding that he thought it had been a long time.
Provencher said authorities then contacted the girls' mother to inform her and ask if she had her daughters with her, since the children didn't appear to have been in the car.
Provencher shot video from the scene and posted it to Facebook. The post has since been removed.
"There's nobody. The tires are blown out, the windows are blown out. There's no one in the car or in the field," she is heard saying in the video. "It's crazy. I don't understand."
Provencher said she hoped the person was safe, noting there were child seats in the car.
"I really hope there wasn't a child in the car, because it's really serious. The car is finished," she said.
It is possible that one or all of the three missing people are injured, said Surete du Quebec spokesperson Stephane Tremblay.
The subsequent police investigation led officers to launch the Amber Alert Thursday afternoon.
"The car is very damaged and that's why we are looking for them, to see what condition they are in," said police spokesperson Anik Lamirande, adding that signs point to the three leaving the scene of the crash on foot.
Martin Carpentier is 5'10" and 130 lbs. He was wearing a grey t-shirt and jeans, maybe glasses.
Anyone who spots him is urged to call 911 immediately.
-- With files from The Canadian Press
This story has been updated to say that police have not confirmed the identities of the two bodies.