Quebec police still looking for father, two days after missing girls found dead

ST-APOLLINAIRE, Que. — Quebec provincial police continued their intensive search Monday for the father of two young girls whose bodies were found Saturday in a small town southwest of Quebec City.

The bodies of Norah and Romy Carpentier, aged 11 and 6, were located in a wooded area in St-Apollinaire, Que., but Martin Carpentier, who is suspected of abducting the girls, remains missing.

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Provincial police said the focus of their manhunt was an area near where the girls' bodies were found on the weekend and where police found "pertinent elements" on Sunday.

"The elements that we possess lead us to think Martin Carpentier could still be around the area, or at least be in transit in that area," said Sgt. Ann Mathieu, a Quebec provincial police spokeswoman.

Police did not specify what the items were, but as the search entered a fifth day, police raised the possibility Carpentier could be unconscious or dead, given the weather conditions and the potential he was injured from a car crash right before his disappearance.

"We can't rule out the fact that he could be dead," Mathieu said. "But also, he's a suspect in our case, so it's important for us to find Martin Carpentier, because the key to this event is Martin Carpentier."

Police deployed a helicopter, a drone and police dogs as needed in the search.

The girls were last seen Wednesday and became the subject of an Amber Alert the next day. Police have said the girls and their father are believed to have been in a serious traffic accident on Highway 20 in St-Apollinaire on Wednesday evening about 9:30 p.m.

Investigators said the car was heading east when it skidded into the median, flipped over and landed on the shoulder on the opposite side of the highway. But police did not find any occupants inside the car when they arrived.

On Sunday, the manhunt for the 44-year-old Carpentier had authorities tightening the search in a thickly wooded area near where the young sisters from Levis, Que., were found.

Residents had helped with the searches until Saturday, but police asked people to stay away from the area Sunday to let officers work.

The case has gripped the attention of the province, especially in the town of just over 6,000 people where it's playing out and in the family's hometown of Levis, Que., across the St. Lawrence River from the provincial capital.

The oldest of the sisters, Norah, was a member of a local chapter of the Association de Scouts du Canada — which primarily serves the French-speaking scouting community across the country.

Dominique Moncalis, a spokeswoman for the Association de Scouts du Canada, said Martin Carpentier had been a leader with the 128th Groupe Scout de Charny since last September.

It was a brief role, cut short when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of all activities in mid-March.

She said two leaders from the group have established a makeshift memorial inside a small gazebo in an area park, holding a vigil for Romy and Norah on Saturday night and again Sunday morning.

Stuffed animals, flowers and notes of condolence have filled the gazebo, Moncalis said.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault began a Montreal news conference on Monday by offering condolences to the family of the young victims.

"I'm shocked, and I believe all Quebecers are shocked like me," Legault said adding police will do everything they can to find the father.

Legault also urged anyone who sees family members in difficulty or distress to get help, giving out a number for a parent help line.

"If you have trouble, if you don't feel (in) control or if you see somebody close to you not being in control, having difficulties, you don't need to be shy," he said.

"You have to do something when you see that you're in trouble before doing something terrible."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2020.

- By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal.

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