APRIL JONES MISSING'Please don't get in the van': Friend begged April Jones not to get in kidnapper's vehicle
Officers are quizzing a 46-year-old man, named locally as Mark Bridger, who was arrested in the town where April was abducted
The best friend of snatched April Jones begged her not to get into the van in which she was driven off by a kidnapper.
As police and neighbours last night continued the hunt for the missing five-year-old, an RAF search and rescue helicopter was scrambled to a “very specific location” at short notice with police on board.
Officers were also quizzing a 46-year-old man who was arrested yesterday in the townwhere April was abducted.
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Mum-of-two Vicky Fenner told how the two close friends had been playing together when the kidnapper struck.
The 25-year-old added: “The two girls went out together and we’ve been told by the seven-year-old that April got into a vehicle parked behind the garages.
"It was wet and cold and the other girl told April not to get into it. But April said: ‘It’s all right, I know them’.
“I think the girl was the only person who was with April. She is the last person to see her.
“I was told April was in the same vehicle two or three days ago. On that occasion three children got into the vehicle but one girl is denying it.”
April’s friend said she climbed into a left-hand drive van willingly.
The arrested man was named locally as Mark Bridger, a swimming pool attendant.
Neighbours say he has a daughter about April’s age.
Arrested: Mark Bridger
He was held walking on a road near the town.
Police later found his vehicle nearby and took it for examination.
April’s devastated parents Coral, 40, and 43-year-old Paul said in a statement directed at whoever had taken her: “Please, if you have our little girl, let her come home to us.”
Shocked residents on the Mid Wales estate where the girl was snatched told how their quiet community has been shattered by the abduction.
And they said they previously had no fears about letting children play outside because the area was considered very safe.
Vicky added: “I’ve grown up on this estate and we all thought this was the safest place in the world for kids to play.
"April goes past my house 20 times a day with her friend. This is such a shock because everybody looks out for everyone else’s children and we all know what is going on.”
Another mother added: “We always thought this was the best place in the world to bring up kids. This is like taking the innocence away from our town. April is tiny and so sweet.
“It’s shocking isn’t it. They are a nice, normal family.”
The youngster was snatched on the Bryn y Gog estate in Machynlleth, Powys at 7pm on Monday.
Police, coastguard, mountain rescuers and the RAF were concentrating their search for her along the banks of a river.
The RAF Sea King flew from the same base on Anglesey where Prince William is based. He was not involved in the search operation.
Powys Chief Superintendent Reg Bevan, leading the hunt for the girl who was wearing her favourite purple knee-length coat when she disappeared, said last night: “April is still missing and all lines of inquiry are continuing with the view she is alive.”
Parents: Paul and Coral are said to be "shattered"
Last night detectives said they were examining a left-hand drive Land Rover Discovery.
People who knew the arrested man claim he had a similar vehicle.
Officers have carefully quizzed April’s friends to piece together the moments before she was snatched and to get a description of the kidnapper.
Superintendent Ian John confirmed the main witness was a seven-year-old girl.
He added: “She saw her walking willingly into the van on the driver’s side.
"We are treating the witness with a great deal of sensitivity and specialist officers trained to deal with children are slowly and precisely interviewing her.”
Mr Bevan added: “The indications are that April got into the vehicle willingly. There’s nothing to suggest at this stage there was a struggle.”
April lives with her parents, sister Jasmine, 16, and brother Harley, nine.
Neighbour Gareth Jones, 51, told how 45 minutes after she vanished, Coral turned up at his house in tears asking: “Have you seen my daughter?”
He added: “Coral was totally distraught. She was in pieces.
“This is totally shocking. We come from a quiet mid-Wales town. We wanted to do anything to help. The way everyone has stepped up is amazing.”
Another parent told how she joined the search party looking for April as soon as it became clear she had vanished.
The mum said: “It is very scary and I can’t even imagine what Coral and Paul are going through. It’s heart-wrenching and horrible.”
Rallying round: Hundreds of volunteers helped the search
More than 500 people yesterday joined police to help in the search.
They spent the night scouring every road within a 25-mile radius of the town.
Mum-of-two Helen Roberts told how Harley banged on her door pleading for help after his sister went missing.
The 43-year-old, who is a dinner school meals supervisor at the local primary where April is a pupil, said: “He said, ‘Please, please, please come and help me’.
"I went and grabbed my coat. Harley was in tears, he was frantic. He wanted everybody to help because he thinks the world of April because she is the youngest.
“April is a lovely, pretty little girl. She is always happy and has lots of friends. She is a great girl and always listens to me.
"I held her hand in the playground on Monday. She said, ‘What time’s dinner, Auntie Helen?’
“Everybody is confused about where she has been taken and who has taken her.
"There’s great sadness but we are hoping to find her safe and alive. We searched the school and estate.”
April’s godmother Mair Raftree joined the hunt for the youngster.
The 49-year-old said: “She is such an intelligent child there is no way she would get into a car with a stranger.
"She had to have known him. I cannot believe what is happening, no one can, we’re in a state of shock and we are all praying for a miracle.
"I spoke to April’s mum this morning and she is struggling to keep it together. Coral is at home now and she’s been told not to leave her house.”
Coral is a member of the junior school parent teachers association.
Paul used to own a hardware shop and is regularly seen out walking the family’s pet dog.
A vigil was last night being held at St Peters Church in Machynlleth where wellwishers prayed for April.
Neighbours said Bridger was a well-known figure in the small town.
One added: “Everyone around here knows him. He used to work as a lifeguard.”
Wayne Thomas, 32, once worked as a welder with the suspect.
He said: “I’m amazed he has been arrested for this.”
Bridger’s parents Pamela and Graham last night refused to comment at their home in Hailsham, East Sussex.