MONTREAL — The father of a 10-year-old boy who disappeared in Montreal one year ago stood by a church altar Tuesday night and defiantly told the roughly 200 people gathered that his son is still alive.
Ariel Jeffrey Kouakou never returned home after setting out on foot to visit a friend on March 12, 2018. The search for him gripped the city and police have said they believe the boy likely drowned accidentally.
Frederic Kouakou used the one-year anniversary of Ariel's disappearance to air some of his frustrations about the police investigation, which he called inadequate.
"I claimed that my son was abducted," Kouakou said, describing the hours following the boy's disappearance. "But faced with the powerful machine of the police, what could I do?"
The family organized the mass at a church near the park on the banks of the Riviere des Prairies where he was last seen.
Kouakou talked about the helicopter, drone, cadaver dog and nautical teams that scoured the river banks in search of the boy's body.
"And the results?" he asked. "There were no results."
He has repeatedly said his son would never venture near the river. He sought to persuade Montreal officials to set up a special squad to investigate abductions.
Video: Ariel Kouakou's father speaks to reporters in March 2018. Story continues after video.
Kouakou said Mayor Valerie Plante told him she couldn't tell the police what to do, but could have discussions with the department to ensure they had enough resources to locate the missing boy.
"Twelve months later, what has come out of those discussions," Kouakou asked.
But despite his anger and sadness, he said the family has found peace in God.
"In the morning, we wake up with hope," he said. "At night, we go to sleep with hope. We eat, drink and walk with hope. ... We know that Ariel will come home."
Kouakou and his wife, Akouena Noella Bibie, were in the front pew as friends and other well-wishers from the community hugged and kissed them.
Janie Halle-Bolduc, who attended the service with her 10-year-old daughter, Jiane, said she was immensely sad for Ariel's family.
She said her daughter goes to school near the park where the boy disappeared, adding that parents have been keeping a closer eye on their children since then.
"There really is a climate of fear in the neighbourhood," Halle-Bolduc said.
Earlier from HuffPost Canada:
Surveillance cameras on March 12, 2018, captured Ariel entering a park on the banks of the river, but he was not seen leaving the area. One witness described as credible by police said she saw Ariel near the water before he went missing.
Police briefly issued an Amber Alert soon after, even though they said there was no evidence of an abduction. They did so after taking into account Ariel's age, the cold weather at the time and the fact he had no history of running away.
Rewards were offered, police received hundreds of tips and numerous searches were conducted in the area, but they all came up empty.
On Tuesday, Ariel's photo appeared on screens across Montreal's 68 subway stations. The photo will also appear across Canada in May on envelopes used to mail CIBC Visa bills, an initiative with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Pina Arcamone, director general of the Missing Children's Network, said the aim is to shed light on the case and offer comfort to Ariel's family.
"Whether it's good or bad, the family needs to know definitively what happened to their missing loved one. We are attempting to find the truth so we can have a family stop searching."