Missing twins’ family fears they are dead

GENEVA—Family members were discouraged Tuesday about the odds of finding two missing Swiss girls alive, after discovering that their Canadian-born father mailed away thousands of euros rather than hire daycare before apparently killing himself.

The six-year-old girls’ uncle, Dr. Valerio Lucidi, told reporters outside the girls’ home in a suburb of Lausanne that every passing minute is filled with fear.

He said the family’s hopes have dimmed since police found that the girls’ father, Matthias Schepp, withdrew 7,000 euros in Marseilles, but apparently did not use the money to provide some sort of care for missing twins Alessia and Livia.

“This worries us a lot that we received the money because it shows there is no caregiver,” said the Belgian surgeon, whose sister, Irina, is the girls’ mother. “We are really scared that something bad happened.”

Instead, he had sent 5,000 euros to their mother in a series of mailings from Cerignola, Italy, before dying in an apparent suicide in southern Italy.

His body was found last Thursday, with about 100 euros on him, and police say they believe he threw himself under a train.

The couple was separated, and Schepp had picked up the girls to spend the last weekend in January with him. Both parents lived in the lakefront community of St. Sulpice, within Lausanne.

Speaking to various news media organizations, Dr. Lucidi said that the father picked up the girls on a Friday and they were last seen playing with a neighbour’s child Sunday afternoon.

Their mother, Irina Lucidi, a senior legal counsel with Philip Morris International in Lausanne, alerted police that the girls were missing after she and her husband, who also worked at the tobacco giant, exchanged text messages Jan. 30.

He told her he would return the girls to school the next morning, a Monday.

Instead, Schepp apparently drove off in an Audi A6 black wagon that was found Thursday at Cerignola after he was found dead.

His exact path between Lausanne and Cerignola remains unclear, including whether he took the girls with him to Marseilles and on to Italy.

In Marseilles, he bought three ferry tickets to go to Corsica, but police said there is no evidence they were used.

“I hope we will find them as soon as possible but our hope is diminishing minute after minute,” he said, adding that the girls could eventually be found anywhere ranging from near the girls’ Lake Geneva home to somewhere in the mountains of Italy.

But he said the girls were “very bright,” both fluent in French and Italian, and capable of fending for themselves if necessary.

An international search operation – dubbed Operation Gemelle, the Italian word for twin – so far has turned up no firm evidence about either the whereabouts of the girls or their possible trail since vanishing from Lausanne.

At first, police had focused on searching in Italy, with the discovery of their father’s body, and looked for leads in France.

In the past several days the hunt has intensified closer to home, with a helicopter sweeping the lake and searches of four boats in nearby port towns and checks of all the gas stations between Lausanne and Geneva, about 50 kilometres away, that might have been used by the father.

Police have gone door-to-door in their hometown of St. Sulpice, part of Lausanne, and searched both parents’ homes repeatedly for clues about anywhere the girls might have been, said Jean-Christophe Sauterel, spokesman for police in the province of Vaud.

Schepp’s banking and phone records also have been examined.

He sent his estranged wife a note from Marseille saying he could not live without her and a letter a day later from nearby Toulon.

Police have been seeking witnesses who might have seen the girls since they went missing more than a week ago.

Both girls are blonde and wear glasses. Alessia was dressed in blue jeans, a striped T-shirt and white jacket; Livia wore a purple ski jacket with white and pink sneakers

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