The tragedy began to unfold early on Monday with a Facebook post which alerted a young mum that her six-year-old daughter was missing on the Isle of Bute.

A picture of Alesha MacPhail appeared on the social network along with a desperate appeal by a grandparent for help to find her.

The child’s father Robert MacPhail is from the island and his daughter had been staying with her grandparents, Angela King and Calum MacPhail, Robert’s father.

Not long after the news broke, the little girl’s mother Georgina Lochrane, 23, who lives in Lanarkshire, commented on King's post - asking what had happened to her daughter.

She was unaware the child’s lifeless body had already been discovered in woodland on the grounds of an abandoned hotel near her grandparent’s home.

“Someone tell me what’s happened that's my daughter,” Lochrane wrote. Another Facebook user posted a link to an article which said police searching for the girl had found a body.

Writing under the Facebook post, Lochrane said: “Angela answer me now…that is my f****** daughter.”

Lochrane was later seen on the island tearfully looking at floral tributes to her daughter. She is separated from Alesha’s father and lives in Lanarkshire, where Alesha went to school.

After the child’s body was found, a post mortem was carried out and the results prompted police to launch a murder enquiry. On Wednesday a teenage boy was arrested.

Heather Ferguson, 21, a friend of Alesha’s father, said: “The family are all just broken. They’re absolutely torn apart. The whole family can’t get their heads around it.”

The alleged murder has traumatised the close-knit island community of only 7,500 people. “Everyone on the island is destroyed by it. It’s been a shock to everybody. We didn’t think anything like this would ever happen here. If it happened in a big city some people might be less surprised, but you don’t expect it on a small island.

“Before this all came out there were kids out on their bikes, the parks were full. You would see Alesha too. She was down here most weekends.

“Now it’s just a ghost town. People aren’t letting their kids out.”

Jennifer Scicluna, 62, whose son Mario married Alison MacPhail, Alesha’s great aunt, said: “It’s hit the family very hard. My son is working as an electrician in Afghanistan and he got compassionate leave to come home and support the family. They are devastated.”

She added: “The police have been doing a wonderful job with them. They are very thorough.”

The police presence on the island has dramatically increased, with officers walking around in twos and police cars patrolling streets. Officers were also posted at the ferry port in Rothesay.

One officer, who asked not to be named, confirmed the numbers of officers on the island have been increased, with support provided by officers in Ayrshire and Inverclyde.

“I’m one of six officers who have been sent from U Division in Irvine this morning,” he said. “There’s also officers here from Greenock. We’re here to provide reassurance and answer any questions but very few people are around. Everyone we’re speaking to is in shock about this terrible incident.”

Father of three, Nick Morton-Grant, 36, who runs Rothesay Repairs, said: “There’s a strange atmosphere in the town. It’s usually buzzing, with a lot of children around, but it’s been quiet. We’re all keeping our children close to home.”

Morton-Grant, who is from Stevenage, moved to the island from the mainland six years ago. He added: “This is a place you move to because you think your children will be safe. My daughters would get the bus into town on their own but that’s going to change now.”

Young mum, Amy Macdonald, from Rothesay, said: “You could leave your children to run about the streets – everyone looks out for everyone else’s kids – but we don’t feel safe anymore.”

Alesha’s grandparents have a seafront home close to a playpark. The park was empty yesterday and there were no children paddling or building sandcastles on the beach. The only evidence of children was distant voices from behind garden walls.

Gillian McLachlan, 34, a life guard at the local swimming pool, placed a soft toy and pink balloons at Alesha’s grandparent’s house, where dozens of floral tributes have been laid. She said: “Alesha was a happy wee girl. She would come in to the fun sessions. She would always look up to the high chair and smile. I’ll miss her.”

One resident who lives near the woods where Alesha’s body was found, and who asked not to be named, said: “She was a lovely wee lassie. And her family are nice people. I know her grandfather from the bowling club. He has been club champion and still comes up for a game now and again.”

Carol Peacock, who also knows Alesha’s grandfather from the bowling club, said: “We’re all in shock. My husband and I have lived her for 43 years and brought up our girls here. It’s always been a safe place for children. People don’t even lock their doors.”

Generations of families from Glasgow have traditionally holidayed in Rothesay, in a practice known as going ‘doon the watter’.

The ferry was quieter than usual at this time of year, according to staff on board. The few tourists who did make the trip were wary about visiting Bute after the tragedy.

A mother of two young girls aged 6 and 9, and who asked not to be named, said: “I’m from Shetland, although we live in Glasgow now, and we’re staying at the Park Dean caravan site. We planned this trip to Bute before the tragedy and I must admit I feel a bit unsettled about taking my girls there today. It’s very sad for the family and for the island community.”

Mike Walwanda was visiting the island with his wife and two children, aged 12 and 8. He said: “I heard about the missing girl but I didn’t realise it was this island until I got to the train station this morning and picked up a newspaper. It’s a tragic incident and I feel so sorry for the family.”

Walwanda, who is originally from Kenya and has lived in Edinburgh for 19 years, added: “My wife and I will be keeping a close eye on our children today.”

Aiste Gvildyte, 33, was on holiday in Rothesay with her three young sons. She said: “We’re supposed to be here until Sunday but we’re thinking of going home early.”

The local tourist information office was empty, with the staff talking among themselves about the tragedy. The putting green was unused. In pubs and cafes locals spoke in hushed tones, aware of the influx of journalists on the island.

The landlord at the Golfers Bar, Tommy Walmsley, said: “I’ve lived here 30 years and we’ve never heard anything like it. It’s horrible.”

A coffee shop near the ferry was “quieter than usual”, according to the owner, who asked not to be named. She said: “We usually get our regulars and passing trade but people are staying away. Everyone is just stunned. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen here.”

Police arrested a 16-year-old on suspicion of murder on Wednesday, but officers are still seeking information about the child’s death.

The senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Stuart Houston, said this week: “The response to our earlier public appeals has been significant. However, despite this evening’s major development, I am still appealing for anyone who was in the Ardbeg Road area of Bute on Sunday night or in the early hours of Monday and who may have information about Alesha’s death to contact us.

“Anyone who has CCTV at their home or business, or indeed any motorists with dashcam footage which might help with our investigation are also urged to get in touch.”

To provide information to police, contact the incident room via 101 quoting incident no 0695 of 2/7/2018.