Last week, Digital Journal
reported German officials were seeking the identity of a male who claimed to have emerged out of a forest where he'd been living for five years. The individual, who called himself "Ray", said, with the recent passing of his father, both his parents were now deceased and he had nowhere to go. He indicated he did not know where he came from.
Authorities have been trying to ascertain the individual's identity since last September when he first wandered into Berlin.
"Ray" had been living off the state since coming to Berlin last fall.
Finally, officials recently persuaded "Ray" to allow them to release his photo
to the global community, and within a day he was identified by friends. All along authorities had their suspicions about the story the "Forest Boy" (nickname dubbed in the media) told, but could not find out any identifying information through various searches.
Things weren't as they seemed
Once the photo was publicized, officials quickly found out the forest story was untrue when his image was identified by friends. "Ray" was actually a 20-year-old Dutch man named Robin van Helsum. Authorities confronted the "boy" about his hoax.
"OK, you got me," he had confessed. "I am Robin and I made the whole story up."
Van Helsum had been reported missing by his family back in Sept., however, since he was an adult, coverage was not widespread.
This past week the story has made international headlines, creating much curiosity across the global community as to why someone would make up such a story. Then there is also the issue of van Helsum defrauding German taxpayers.
Some of his family members and friends have shared with various media some of the back story that maybe help explain why a man would disappear, hitchhike and take trains to another country and assume an anonymous identity, selecting to become a minor.
Friends and family share van Helsum's story
According to the Telegraph
, van Helsum's childhood has been described as "traumatic". His parents were divorced when he was a toddler, and his mother took him, and his brother, to Portugal. After a custody battle, Johan van Helsum, Robin's father, gained custody of the boys and brought them back to the Netherlands.
"Robin was really traumatised by those early years," said Mo Rahim Rigi, 21, 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."
Purportedly, he had issues living at his father's, some say the home was very strict. Eventually the then-teen went to live in supervised accommodations at the age of 16. His father visited him regularly. Van Helsum was asked to leave when he was 18 after a girlfriend became pregnant.
"He was asked to leave after he got a girl pregnant," his stepmother, Ellen van Helsum, told a local newspaper yesterday (via Telegraph
) . "She had been living with two other boys and Robin in the care home."
At a later time, he and his father had a falling out, and van Helsum went to live in a flat with a roommate. After Robin's disappearance, reportedly, his father made both public and online appeals for him to come home, but his son was unaware of these appeals since he was living under German public care.
The senior van Helsum, who had been battling cancer, died in Feb. 2012. Coworkers of the father describe him as a dedicated father.
Running from problems?
Friends of Robin describe him as shy and said he never spoke about his parents and that he appeared distant from his family.
His childhood friend, Ray van Ravensberg, told MSNBC
, "He started to stop with school and stop with work, and the only thing he did was sitting on the computer and, yeah, just screwing around." He also indicated van Helsum didn't have much in terms of familial support, and noted financial issues.
Van Ravensberg also spoke of the pregnancy, "First she said she was a few weeks pregnant, but she was already pregnant for a longer period of time, and he didn't want to have the child, and she wanted to keep it."
Reportedly, the baby was born and named Damien; now two years old. It is said he would visit his son from time to time.
Who is Robin van Helsum, really?
After being kicked out of the Berlin youth housing, van Helsum has not been seen or heard
from since. Nor has he reportedly tried to contact any of his friends.
While many questions have been answered, there is still some mystery surrounding van Helsum. Many are likely still wondering why a man seemingly easily left his life, and his son?
Then there are the questions of where he is now, and where will he go? Will he continue to run from his past, or will he embrace a future now that his "limbo" status under the safety net of the German government is gone?
There is also the issue of German officials seeking reimbursement
for the costs incurred while van Helsum was under their care.
Rigi, his former flatmate, said, "It's true that he didn't have the most balanced start. But he wasn't a person to whinge about it; he had big dreams of working to help young people who went through similar experiences. That's why it is so strange that he just disappeared. I knew him really well – we would spend hours talking – and no one saw this coming."