Can You ID Germany's 'Forest Boy'?

Jun 14, 2012
Originally published on June 15, 2012 5:59 am

7 a.m. June 15. IMPORTANT UPDATE: 'Forest Boy' Is A Hoax, Police Say.

Our original post:

Take a look at the face.

If you've got any clue as to who this young man is, police in Berlin want to know.

All Things Considered today catches up on the story of Germany's "forest boy," the young man of about 17 who showed up in Berlin last September saying that his name was "Ray" and that he had been living in the wild with his father for the previous five years.

According to Ray, who says he doesn't know his family name or where he's from, his father died last August and his mother was killed in a car accident about five years earlier.

Ray speaks English. And as Global Post adds:

"Investigators told NBC News that it's most likely that Ray is from a neighboring country, rather than the US, at least according to DNA evidence. The authorities also believe English may not be his native tongue."

Hannah Cleaver is editor of the English-language German news site The Local, which has been following Ray's story since last year. She tells NPR's Audie Cornish that Germans have been captivated by the story of "the boy who walked out of the forest," even though investigators can't figure out whether his story is true or not.

This week, authorities released his picture in the hope it will help them solve the mystery. The Berlin police department's website, with more about Ray's story, is here (scroll down on the page for English).

Someone must know who he is.

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Now, to a mystery that has German police turning to the public for help. Almost a year ago, a teenage boy known only as Ray turned up in Berlin city hall. He said he had been living in the forest for five years. Ray told police that his father and mother had died and he did not know his own identity.

The investigation has been going on for months and authorities have now released a photo of Ray in hopes that someone will recognize him. You can see that picture at

Now, for more on this story, I'm joined by Hannah Cleaver. She's the acting editor of the English language German website, Hi there, Hannah.


CORNISH: So, to start, tell us what other details that authorities learned about Ray.

CLEAVER: Well, yes. I mean, all they know is that he showed up in the center of Berlin last September claiming not to know who he was, not to know where he was from. He told them a story that he had been living in the woods with his father for the previous five years and that his father had died and told him that, if anything should happen then he should walk north and ask for help, which is what he says he did.

He has actually no signs of how he lived in the woods, but he has nothing to him that would give anybody a lead as to where he's from or who he is.

CORNISH: And, as you said, he's not exactly showing up looking feral in any way or dirty. I mean, he knows how to use a computer and the phone and speaks English.

CLEAVER: Well, he spoke only English, but it seems to be learned English, is what the German authorities are saying to me. But the Berlin police say that they themselves are very doubtful of his story because he showed up looking quite clean, quite healthy and, if you'd really been living in the woods for five years, you wouldn't be.

CORNISH: So police have their doubts, but what do they think is going on here?

CLEAVER: This is a fascinating thing - is that there's no alternative narrative to this. The police have distributed fingerprints, pictures, now a photograph and DNA samples internationally and nobody's got any idea of who he is. So, in the absence of any other story, one has to then look again at Ray's story, which has loads of holes in it.

So it's an amazing mystery and the fact is that Ray has stuck to his story now for 10 months. It's not as if he's run away from home and, two months later, he says, well, OK, maybe I should call my mom and tell her I'm OK. There's nothing there. It's amazing.

CORNISH: And have there been any psychological examinations done?

CLEAVER: Well, they have given him a psychologist. I mean, you know, they haven't released any personal details of any psychological evaluation, but he seems, according to my sources, relatively happy, relatively well-adjusted. The most interesting thing about him and his attitude is that he seems to have a lack of interest in finding out who he is or where he's from.

CORNISH: So, Hannah, lastly, where is Ray living now and what's next for him?

CLEAVER: He's currently in the care of Berlin social services. He's living in a home for young people who don't have anywhere else to stay, but the question of what happens to him next, I think, is the most interesting of all because, if he was 17 or around that when he showed up, he must be soon 18, which makes him an adult and the German authorities are going to have to give him an identity. They're going to have to give him a family name. They're going to have to decide on a birthday for him and they're going to have to give him some kind of official status.

And then he's going to have to start his life and that seems to me to be the most interesting phase of all for him. If he really doesn't come up with an identity, he's going to have to start anew. It's a fascinating problem.

CORNISH: Hannah, thank you.

CLEAVER: You're welcome.

CORNISH: That's Hannah Cleaver of in Berlin talking about a teenage boy named Ray. German police have been trying to determine his identity for nearly a year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.