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The curious case of Ray the forest boy

Published on 22/09/2011

It is a story not dissimilar to the mystery piano man of 2005: a tuxedo clad but sodden young man was found on an island off the coast of southern England. He seemed mute and when he was taken into care, his means of communication was pen and paper. When provided with these, he drew pictures of pianos over and over again. When placed in front of the instrument, his playing was reported in the media as being exquisite. His photo, often reproduced, added to the romance of the story. His eyes seemed haunted, his expression so melancholy. Who was he? a man overboard? An amnesiac concert pianist? Of course, the truth turned out to be far less appealing than some of the theories floating around about Andreas Grassl. His piano skills weren't up to much either, it emerged: no one who had heard the maestro actually knew what they were listening to. Is a similar chain of events emerging now, in Berlin? The 17 year old boy, known only as Ray, claimed to have lived rough in the woods with his father for the past five years, ever since the death of his mother, who was killed in a car crash. Ray does not appear to know who he is or where he came from, yet he does know his own name, as well as that of his father, Ryan, and his mother, Doreen.

Ray himself speaks little German, but his English is fairly perfect. His accent, however, is difficult if not impossible to place. According to the boy, his father died after suffering a fall. Ray’s account then suggests that he buried his father in a shallow grave and decided to head North, arriving at a Berlin youth emergency centre on 5 September. Then things become a bit murkier. Berlin police have been quick to state that there is no evidence that any crimes have been committed, and are on record as saying that the most important thing is that Ray is physically healthy and safe. Last Friday, they decided to notify Interpol about the strange case that confronted them. After 10 days, numerous psychological and linguistic assessments and public appeals, it is still a mystery as to who Ray is and where he came from. The artist’s impression above shows an ostensibly healthy young man with good teeth and an ascetic haircut – this latter feature is backed up by the photos of Ray that have been used in the German media, although obviously his face is blurred as he is a minor.
After being "found" Ray spent the first 10 days at the Jugendnotdienst youth shelter, in Charlottenburg, Berlin. Employees there have reported that he responded well to, and had no problem with, sleeping in a comfortable bed and taking regular showers. Apart from the odd moment, he was fairly comfortable mixing with other teenagers too, although his very limited German and their lack of English meant that communication was always going to be an issue. In social situations, the lad was quiet, but not difficult.

Interpol, meanwhile, have admitted that their own investigations have led nowhere. A spokesperson for the international agency said "the problem is that this is not a typical case of locating missing person. Instead, we are dealing with a ‘found’ person who has no information about who he is or where he has been." It is believed that a breakthrough could occur when authorities find the body of Ray’s father, as fingerprinting, dental records and DNA could provide clues as to the genuine identities of those involved… Searches for the shallow grave are being undertaken in central and South Germany as well as Austria and the Czech Republic. Whether a grave is ever found remains to be seen, but at the moment one should probably treat Ray’s story with a certain amount of skepticism.

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