16 years of dashed hopes and false claims: How the disappearance of Madeleine McCann captivated the world

“We’re never going to give up.” Those were the words earlier this month from the parents of Madeleine McCann, who vanished as a toddler without a trace while on vacation in Portugal in 2007. Born May 2003, Madeleine’s family marked her 20th birthday this month.

Now, just weeks later, police are conducting a search of a remote reservoir around 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the resort area where Madeleine disappeared 16 years ago. It’s the latest development in a long-running, high-profile and, oftentimes, controversial hunt for the missing child from Leicestershire, England.

The mystery of what happened to Madeleine has captivated people around the world in a way few other disappearances have. For years, many have followed every twist and turn of her exhaustive case with frenzied anticipation. Was she taken? Where did she go? From the beginning, her parents have said they believe she was kidnapped, and that she’s still alive somewhere.

Their regular appeals on her whereabouts have led to numerous supposed sightings of girls fitting Madeleine’s description with her tell-tale rare eye condition all over the world, but none of the tip-offs has turned out to be correct. And while many suspects have been investigated – some later cleared while others remain under inquiry – the search for Madeleine continues.

May 3, 2007: The night Madeleine McCann vanishes

Madeleine was just a few days away from celebrating her fourth birthday when she disappeared while on a family vacation in the Portuguese resort town of Praia da Luz on May 3, 2007.

The trip had started well with the family enjoying the fresh air and sunshine during their stay at the Ocean Club resort in the Algarve region. But five days into the getaway, tragedy struck.

That fateful evening, Kate and Gerry McCann put Madeleine and her younger twin siblings, Sean and Amelie, to bed before going to dine with friends at an onsite tapas restaurant a short distance away. The group had devised a system to check on all the children every half hour.


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