Reported missing as a child, British teenager lives off the grid for 6 years, then turns up in France

“I was like, ‘This is weird. It’s 3 a.m., it’s raining, he’s all alone on the road between two villages,” said driver Fabien Accidini.

From there, the story gets even weirder. The young man turned out to be Alex Baty, a 17-year-old from the UK who has been missing since 2017.

Instead, it turned out to be a six-year odyssey through Morocco, Spain and southwestern France, living a life off the grid.

Until this week. Batty suddenly came back on the radar on Wednesday. Accidini then finds him alone on a remote French road and hands him over to the French police.

“It was a nomadic life,” said Officer Lea Chambonnier. “The only constants, the only things they brought with them, were the solar panels and their vegetable plants.”

The teenager decided to end his roaming by breaking up with his mother after she told him she wanted to move back to Finland, French prosecutor Antoine Leroy said. He and Chambonnier, the gendarmerie commander, spoke at a news conference in the southwestern French city of Toulouse.

“When his mother indicated that she intended to go to Finland with him, this young man knew that this trip had to stop,” the prosecutor said.

He said he could not use the term “sect” to describe how the mother, grandfather and Bati lived. “The term he uses is ‘spiritual community,'” he said.

“He’s never been locked up,” he added. “But he was always obliged to live under these conditions.”

The prosecutor said they would be reunited in the UK this weekend.

“I cannot begin to express my relief and happiness that Alex has been found safe and sound,” grandmother Susan Caruana said in a statement released by British police.

She said they spoke via video call and “it was so good to hear his voice and see his face again. I can not wait to see him.”

The mother, Melanie Bati, may have gone to Finland, the prosecutor said. The grandfather, David Batty, is believed to have died about six months ago, he said. Both are wanted by the British police in connection with the disappearance of the young man.

After failing to return to the UK from the 2017 trip to Spain, the trio spent around two years in Morocco before making their way back through Spain to south-west France, where they appear to have spent the last two years roaming around the the Pyrenees mountains.

But Baty “doesn’t know exactly where he was, which is very surprising,” the prosecutor said. “We’ll do some digging.”

The driver who found him spotted the teenager alone in the rain and dark with a flashlight, a backpack and his skateboard. He stopped “and asked if he was OK, what he was doing there, if he needed help and if he wanted me to drop him off in a village,” Accidini told French broadcaster BFMTV.

At first, Batty was suspicious, giving a fake name of Zach, but he was also “very, very tired,” Accidini said. So he climbed aboard and they chatted while Ackidini finished his deliveries.

“After he felt calm, he gave me his real name and told me that he was abducted from his mother five years ago,” Accidini said. The teenager added, “that he’s been in France for the last two years in a spiritual community that was a little weird with his mom, who’s also a little weird, a little confused.”

“He was fed up.” He said, “I’m 17. I need a future.” He saw no future for him there.

Batty uses Ackidini’s cell phone to text her grandmother. Accidini showed it to BFM.

It read: “Hi Grandma, I’m Alex, in France, Toulouse, I really hope you get this message, I love you, I want to come home.”

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Lawless reported from London.

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