THEY had expected to come together again to resume a painstaking search for three-year-old Mikaeel Kular, who had apparently vanished from their midst.

But locals in north Edinburgh were instead yesterday trying to take in the devastating news that their hopes he would be found safe and well were in vain.

A small number of people turned up at West Pilton Neighbourhood Centre yesterday morning, due to be the gathering point for the search, which had been called off late on Friday night, after it emerged that the body of a small boy had been found.

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The mood was visibly subdued. Most had come to return hi-vis vests and torches borrowed for the search, but lingered outside the centre to share their shock with others.

Christopher Cameron, 27, who had joined the search until late on Friday night, said he was "absolutely gutted" by the news.

"I only just heard they have discovered a body," he said. "I am pretty shocked. He is just a poor soul, it is unbelievable.

"There was an amazing turnout on Friday, there were hundreds of people here. I was out checking all the trees, bushes, everywhere I thought he could possibly be."

Amid the worst of circumstances, the community spirit shown in the local area has been praised. Author Irvine Welsh, who lived in Muirhouse as a child, tweeted: "So sad about wee Mikaeel but couldn't be more proud of where I come from & the amazing people there who tried everything to help out."

Last night, hundreds of people attended a memorial service at Muirhouse St Andrew's Church, near the home Mikaeel shared with his mother, twin sister and three other siblings.

Robert Pearson, 32, chairman of community group Tenants and Residents in Muirhouse, said locals had come forward to help search for Mikaeel almost immediately after the news he was missing emerged.

"I got a call at 11.30am on Thursday from other residents suggesting that we get something started up," he said. "I put a plea out through social media to ask residents to come forward and half an hour later we had 50 volunteers. The numbers just grew from there."

He said a lot of people who had been out searching on Friday night for Mikaeel only learned his body had been found when they returned.

"It has been very confusing and upsetting for the residents, given this wee boy was very much part of the community."

Just over a mile away, tributes including flowers, teddy bears and candles were placed at a corner in Ferry Gait Crescent, Drylaw, where Mikaeel lived. Police remained outside the family's first-floor flat.

The messages included one which read: "Kular sleep with the angels, hope you like the teddys (sic) for you to cuddle in heaven", while another said: "We don't know you but you belonged to our community. You are one of us. Always forever, god love you wee Mikael (sic) Kular, RIP xx".

One bunch of roses asked the simple question: "Why????"

Many of those who came to pay their respects were families with children and were visibly upset. Shazia Chaudhry, 32, who lives in the street, said she was "absolutely shocked" by the news a body had been found.

"I don't know the family, but I used to see the children coming in and out, going to school and nursery with their mother and they seemed happy kids. I think the last time I saw them was way before Christmas.

"All I can say is it is such a shock and it is really upsetting."

She tearfully told how she tried to explain to her 20-month-old son Zohaib what had happened when he saw the flowers being laid. She said: "I literally told him 'baby gone'. He asked where, and I said 'to the sky'."

She added: "I just hope he [Mikaeel] didn't suffer much. I just can't think about it, I really can't.

Michelle Williamson, 39, from nearby Ferry Road, had come along with her children Courtney, six, Cherise, eight and Paul, 10, who each put a teddy at the makeshift shrine.

She said: "We had been following what was happening as much as we can - unfortunately it was the kids that found out what happened this morning, they came and told me.

"We had to do something. It was definitely a shock. It is tragic enough but when it is a kid it just makes it totally unthinkable."

Much of the police activity yesterday was focused 25 miles away in Kirkcaldy, Fife, where the body was found in woods behind a bungalow in the town's Dunvegan Avenue, part of a private residential estate.

A large police cordon was in place around the bungalow and immediately neighbouring houses. A handful of floral tributes had been placed at the edge of the police tape.

A few hundred yards away, four police officers stood at the entrance to the woods, which locals said was frequented by dog walkers and where children played.

Olga Park, a retired nurse who lives opposite the bungalow said: "I'm just absolutely shocked about what's happened. The fact he's just a three-year-old boy is just terrible. The poor wee thing."

Michael Woods, 53, who lives in nearby Floors Place, said he had been following the developing police investigation but was surprised to find officers at the end of his street.

"First it was in Edinburgh, then they said Fife, then Kirkcaldy and now it's here almost on my doorstep. It's unsettling," he said. "When I heard it was here I just about jumped off my chair."

Lisa Maxwell, 42, a mum-of-two from nearby Skibo Place, said she did not know the family who lived in the bungalow, but would say hello to them.

She said: "This has been a big shock. I can't even comprehend it. This is a quiet, safe place, my son goes out and he plays in the woods.

"I would never dream of anything untoward happening here."