Residents in Machynlleth have been left devastated by the news that the man arrested over the abduction of April Jones is now being quizzed on suspicion of her murder.
Today’s dramatic announcement has left a cloud hanging over the town.
The grim news was revealed as police urged volunteers who had rushed to join the hunt around the west Wales town of Machynlleth to leave it to the professionals as the ‘dynamics of the search have now changed’.
April, who has cerebral palsy, has not been seen since Monday evening.
Mark Bridger, 46, was initially arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of abduction.
The Bro Ddyfi Leisure Centre and The Plas Community Centre, which have been the hub of the search operation, were beginning to get quieter, with members of the public returning home and volunteers packing away supplies which had been on offer to the public.
A solemn mood was evident, with people not speaking when before they would be keeping each other’s spirits high.
Ann Jones, from the town, said: “It is exactly what we didn’t want hear. This is just devastating for the whole community.
“The mood in Machynlleth has just dropped. It is silence, nobody is talking, nobody is looking at each other.
“It is as if our worst fears have been confirmed.”
Another resident, Bronwen Lloyd, added: “A black cloud had emerged over the town. It feels like everyone had gone home to reflect.
“It has pulled the town together, but now the announcement has torn the heart out.”
Paul Lloyd, from nearby Commins Coch, added: “I have been out on the searches and I can understand why they have been called off, but there is now a strange feeling hanging over the town.”
One woman, who was giving out pink ribbons in exchange for donations, but who did not wish to be named, said: “There’s not a lot we can do really now.
“It just feels like time has stopped. It’s devastating.”
It emerged today that Bridger attended the same school parents’ evening as April’s mother and father Coral and Paul, just a few hours before the five-year-old girl disappeared.
He was seen at Ysgol Gynradd Machynlleth, where two of his children are pupils.
Witnesses saw the former leisure centre worker drive to the parents’ evening, which started at 5pm, in his blue Land Rover Discovery – a vehicle for which police have issued an appeal for information.
A Powys County Council spokesman said: “I can confirm that Mr Bridger attended a parents’ evening on October 1.”
Sources close to Jones family said the couple had been given a glowing report about their daughter’s progress – and had allowed her some extra play time when they returned home as a treat.
Just a few yards from her home, police said April was seen willingly getting into large vehicle at around 7pm.
The school put out a statement this afternoon saying pupils, staff and parents were ‘desperately worried by today’s news’ but were ‘still clinging to hope that April will be returned to us’.
The statement said: “As more time goes on we are becoming increasingly concerned for her safety but we refuse to give up hope and are praying that April is alive.
“This week has been the hardest in the school’s history. Our thoughts are with April’s family and friends at this desperately worrying time and we will give them whatever help and comfort they need.”
Meanwhile, Wales football manager Chris Coleman has said the thoughts of the national team were with April’s family.
The former Fulham defender said: “I’m a father of four myself. I can’t imagine what her parents are going through, it’s an unthinkable situation.”
Earlier this week David Cameron and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones also voiced their support.