Eloi Rolland, a missing French teenager, told his family he planned to bring them to New Zealand.
His parents, Thierry and Catherine Rolland, have finally arrived, more than two years after he vanished.
They have no idea what happened to their son and are desperate for information.
“We are so sad,” Catherine said.
Eloi last contacted the couple, who live in Montpellier, France, on March 4, 2020, when he asked his mother what she would like him to bring her as a gift from New Zealand.
“I told him I would like some sand … and some jewellery with shell.”
Catherine suggested Eloi get some sand from beneath the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which he routinely crossed from his host family’s house in Birkenhead to the city.
“But he said it’s not a nice sand,” she recalled.
Eloi, who was 18 at the time, wanted to bring his mother some “beautiful” sand from famed Piha Beach, but it’s unclear whether he ever made it there.
Eloi rode a train from Britomart to New Lynn early on March 7, 2020, after leaving his host family’s house the night before. On CCTV, he was last seen heading down Fruitvale Rd around 7.26 a.m., and his cellphone later located him around the Piha Rd and Scenic Drive intersection at 9.18 a.m.
The question of where Eloi went beyond that is one that detectives have spent many hours attempting to answer.
Despite worries from his previous manager that he was distressed, nothing seemed awry before his disappearance, according to his family.
Eloi’s social media portrays a young man having arrived in New Zealand to learn English in September 2019 and loving and discovering a new nation while meeting new acquaintances.
When asked why Eloi chose New Zealand, Catherine stated he was interested in learning about its culture and landscape, as well as nature. He was also a certified sailing instructor and water rescue expert.
His ultimate goal was to “master” the English language before enrolling at the Universite de Toulouse III to study engineering.
Eloi’s family first became concerned when he did not contact his sister, Aurore, for three days. Catherine thought it was weird because the two spoke frequently.
Detective senior sergeant Callum McNeill told Stuff in April 2020 that the longer Eloi was gone, the less likely police were to discover him alive.
Thierry and Catherine, on the other hand, refused to believe their son was dead.
The pair arrived in New Zealand on May 9, after a trip that had been delayed owing to Covid-19 border restrictions. A group of French filmmakers accompanied them, working on a documentary series on Eloi’s life before and throughout his time in New Zealand.
“Many people are here for him, and we hope that he gives us a sign,” Catherine said.
The pair has subsequently met with police, who took them on a helicopter ride over the Waitkere Ranges, which they claim helped them better comprehend where Eloi went missing.
The density of the Waitkere Ranges, on the other hand, made them wonder that Eloi had gone in there at all. On Piha Rd near where Eloi’s cellphone last pinged, there were no paths into the jungle, and Thierry claimed it appeared “impossible” to merely go into and through a solid wall of foliage.
Eloi being hit by a car is another possibility. His parents, on the other hand, couldn’t believe no one had seen it.
“We don’t know what’s happened,” Catherine said.
“We realise he is perhaps in another place.”
But the pair clung to the faith that Eloi was still alive and well, promising to be there for him at all times.
“I hope he’s happy, surrounded by good people and has learned a lot.”
They were grateful to the police for the time and effort put into the investigation, as well as the support they had got from Kiwis, including Eloi’s friends, one of whom messaged to say their son light up whatever room he entered.
“It’s so important for us,” Catherine said. Thierry added: “It is very nice.”
When asked if the event had tainted their opinion of New Zealand, Thierry and Catherine stated it was still “a fantastic place” and that they hoped Kiwis would continue to search for Eloi.
“We hope to come back to New Zealand,” Catherine said.
“Eloi is here. He is our son.”