Posts Tagged forest boy
Now that Ray the Forest Boy has been revealed as 20-year-old Robin van Helsum, Harriet Alexander and Joan Clements of the Telegraph have spoken with his friends in Hengelo, and what they’ve uncovered is both more mundane and sadder than I’d expected.
If this entry seems long, it’s because I like to err on the side of thoroughness. If it seems obsessive, that’s because even with the hoax exposed, Robin’s story is still interesting enough to tickle the writer part of my brain.
His parents divorced when he was a toddler and his mother took him and his elder brother Thomas, now 22, to Portugal. His father, Johan van Helsum, fought a custody battle and, upon winning the case, flew out to bring his sons back to the Netherlands.
“Robin was really traumatised by those early years,” said Mo Rahim Rigi, his former flatmate. “It unnerved him. His mother would try to get in touch, send him birthday cards and that kind of thing, but he didn’t want to know.”
I still want to hear more of his story, but now that Forest Boy has been identified, I’ll probably have to pull Google’s teeth to get any more details on him.
The young man, who has since been known only as Ray, has been identified as 20-year-old Robin van Helsum, from the Dutch town of Hengelo. Van Helsum was 19 when he went missing nine months ago, and his stepmother identified him from the photo released earlier this week, German police told ABC News.
The story doesn’t say anything about Robin’s mother, but the video discloses that his father died of natural causes earlier this year, and the German police have just broken the news to him.
Minor digression: I think it’s sad that he had to choose a different name to go along with his story, because “Robin” is a fabulous name for a Forest Boy. So much more appropriate than “Ray.”
With that said, I guess he’s now going to be sent home to his stepmother in Hengelo, possibly after being fined his expected lifetime earnings for lying to the Berlin police and taking up space in foster care. He is apparently a guy who received an excellent education in foreign language, if he speaks English so well that no one could tell where he’s from, but his Dutch origin also explains how he’s picked up German so easily. (My theory of “actor training” has not yet been debunked but is probably groundless.) He probably learned German in school at an earlier age, and the Dutch language is on the same branch of the Indo-European tree. It’s entirely possible that he’s spoken fluent German for many years but used mostly English at first to go along with his character of an Anglophone boy named Ray.
He went missing from home last September and seems to have traveled for only a few days before he showed up at the City Hall in Berlin. Now I still want to know why he ran away. I’m not buying the NY Mag-style dismissals of “just some hipster” who punked the German authorities with his hoax as some piece of performance art. He appears to have behaved himself very nicely for the Social Services people and police in Berlin, but mentally healthy teenagers with supportive friends and loving family do not run away and set up camp in a different country simply because they’re bored. In the video, his friends say that he was “getting into trouble” at home and perhaps wanted to start a new life with a clean slate. If someone was abusing him, or if he was caught up with some bad people and stuck in an unhealthy pattern, then packing his shit up and setting up camp in the capital city of a neighboring country would be a way to do that.
I suppose it’s also possible that he’s a sociopath, or simply a pathological liar, but if that’s the case, then he’s not mentally healthy.
Since Robin has become an item on the news, I’m curious about what led up to him running away, but now that a family member has stepped up, I’m betting it will be very difficult to get any more information. The fact that I’m so curious about this dude probably means there’s something wrong in my head. That’s not surprising, given that I write novels.
This pisses me off. Not that the boy is there and telling this story, mind you, but that the good people in Berlin have been looking after Ray for 9 months and only now am I hearing about him.
(At the link, scroll down to see their grammatically uncomfortable but still readable English translation.)
He would only know his first name, which was “Ray”. He was born on June 20th 1994. The boy was not able or maybe did not want to name neither his family name nor his heritage or place of birth.
He affirmed for the last 5 years him and his father Ryan used to live in the wild. They were hiking with the help of maps and a compass only and stayed in tents or caves over night.
When his father passed away in August 2011, he buried him in a hole in the forest underneath some stones.
He says he and his dad moved out to the wilderness after his mother died. Then after his father died last August, Ray hiked north through the woods for five weeks until he emerged in Berlin, where he reported to City Hall.
The authorities are rightly skeptical of Ray’s story, and are asking for information from any third parties who recognize Ray. They note that he was carrying a “like new” Finnish-brand backpack, had some clean clothes with him, and that his hands, fingernails and teeth were in good condition. He may have spent a lot of time backpacking with his father, but it sounds like he wasn’t actually far removed from civilization for long periods of time.
Yahoo! has further commentary on Ray, such as that he’s picking up German quickly while going to school and that he’s using a laptop and cellphone with no problems. This much jumps out at me as a former English teacher in a foreign country:
Neuendorf said that Ray does not speak English with a particular accent, leading investigators to believe that he is not a native speaker. There are no indications, however, of what his native tongue might be.
In my experience, if a person speaks a given language “without a particular accent,” that means it IS his native language. He would speak a foreign language with an accent indicative of where he comes from; a native Russian-speaker, for example, would speak English with a Russian accent. If Ray speaks English accent-free, that means that either he is extremely well-practiced in it as a foreign language and has learned from native speakers from a variety of Anglophone countries, or that he’s a native Anglophone who has also received training as an actor. I think the second option is more likely, but either one is intriguing.
Since he showed up in Berlin and started out by speaking English, I think it’s safe to assume he’s not a native German-speaker, but since he’s picking up German so well when he’s at least 16 years old, he probably learned a good deal of the language before this point.
I’ll be snatching up new information on Ray like a magpie on shiny things as the story unfolds. The story is just screaming “novel idea!” at me, and I have more than enough works in progress demanding my scant spare time already.
ETA: Okay, I did a little Googling and found some other stories. The Guardian has a slightly different take on Ray’s language skills, specifically:
While he speaks English, experts who have heard his voice do not think it is his mother tongue.
I do not claim to know better, but I would like to hear more specifics from the experts. Surely, they must have picked up a hint of some other language in his voice? Can we narrow it down to a sub-family? Does he sound more Germanic or Balto-Slavic?
He recalls details such as seeing his father get money “out of a wall” and going shopping in the supermarket Lidl, but very little else.
Okay, so his dad occasionally visited an ATM to pick up supplies at Lidl. That money has to have come from somewhere. Perhaps the family is independently wealthy and more than a little eccentric? And by “eccentric,” I mean the phrase “batshit insane” sometimes came up while talking about Ray’s dad?
“He didn’t look like at all like a vagrant – he didn’t smell, he was clean, his clothes were clean but he simply didn’t know anything about who he was,” said the female office worker who was called to front desk at the Rathaus by security guards because she speaks English.
“He had only a few words of German but was completely fluent in English, and said that his father had told him it was an important language,” said the civil servant who asked not to be named. “Although he seemed to be a native English speaker, I detected some sort of accent.”
The boy told the civil servant that he had been travelling around with his father, who it is thought was named Ryan, for “as long as he could remember” but his father had died and so he had followed his compass north.
“He seemed calm, not scared at all, but quiet. He said he had been told to go to Berlin if he ever needed help and had taken several weeks to walk here,” she said.
Police said he later described how he had been living in a forest for “at least five years” following the death of his mother in a car crash but that his father had recently died in a fall so he buried him in a shallow grave before walking to Berlin.
As of yesterday, the Telegraph still had no new information except that “dozens” of letters from “across the world” have claimed him as a lost relative and all have been ruled out. Only reluctantly did he allow the police to release his picture to the media, and he’s still uninterested in finding out who he is. Of course there are holes in his story big enough to let a truck drive through, but the question is what he’s covering up. I’m leaning towards him being a runaway, but I crave more facts.