LONDON — The case has generated 40,000 documents, 3,000 photos, interviews with 600 people, hundreds of alleged sightings, endless theories and searing heartache. Yet, still no Madeleine McCann, the British 3-year-old who vanished 10 years ago Wednesday while on vacation with her parents in Portugal.
Madeleine disappeared from her bed in a rental apartment in the Algarve region on May 3, 2007, while her parents ate dinner a few hundred yards away and her 2-year-old twin siblings slept in the same room. The incident sparked one of the most publicized missing-person investigations in British history.
"Ten years — there's no easy way to say it, describe it, accept it. I remember when Madeleine first disappeared, I couldn’t even begin to consider anything in terms of years," the girl's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, said in a statement to mark the decade since she went missing in the resort town of Praia da Luz.
"Now here we are. ... Madeleine, our Madeleine — 10 years," the couple said. "Most days are similar to the rest. ... But 10 years — a horrible marker of time, stolen time."
And it's not over.
PHOTOS: The search for Madeleine McCann
Ahead of Wednesday's anniversary, police said they are pursuing "critical" new leads that could help solve the mystery that has cost $14 million to investigate and fueled a decade of dead ends across five continents. It also led to legal battles between the family and a Portuguese detective who claims the parents had a hand in their daughter's abduction and covered up her death — an allegation strenuously denied by the McCanns. Police said there is no evidence to back it up.
Investigators have not released any new information about current theories or suspects. The last major lead in 2013 ended with the release of four suspects. Police said no definitive evidence allows them to conclude whether Madeleine is alive or dead. Britain's Interior Ministry recently committed $110,000 to continue the investigation for another six months, but it scaled back the number of detectives on the case to four, from 30 in 2011.
The case remains a national obsession in Britain and has spawned an industry of Madeleine McCann experts, lawyers and commentators. Its impact on the British psyche is sometimes compared to the 1979 case of Etan Patz, 6, whose abduction and murder in New York sparked the U.S. campaign to feature photos of missing children on milk cartons.
"If you look into all the police reports about what may have happened to her, nobody has come up with anything that is tangible," said Mick Neville, a former detective with London's Metropolitan Police who now advises law enforcement and security organizations on forensics technology. "This world is awash with images. Ten years ago hardly anyone had a mobile phone camera. If Madeleine is alive, there should be a picture of her somewhere."
"This case lives on in the memory like Jack the Ripper," he said, referring to the unidentified 19th-century British serial killer. "People want to know what happened. It's just so haunting and tragic. It's that sort of case where they want to know what's been going on. They want answers."
Children go missing for many different reasons and there is a lack of accurate data of such cases, experts say.
About 250,000 children are reported missing in the 28-nation European Union each year, according to estimates by Missing Children Europe, which coordinates research and child-protection systems between EU countries such as Britain and Portugal.
These disappearances include runaways, parental abductions, unaccompanied migrant children and criminal abductions. Only 1% of cases in the EU in 2015 involved third-party criminal abductions. Missing Children Europe says those disappearances often have links to sexual abuse and exploitation.
In the United States, the FBI’s National Crime and Information Center database in 2016 listed 465,676 missing children.
Robert Lowery, a vice president at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a Virginia-based group that receives federal funding, said that while the probability of finding missing children diminishes over time, there are examples of children who have been located after many years.
One example: Californian Jaycee Dugard, 11, was kidnapped by a convicted sex offender on her way home from school and freed 18 years later.
Madeleine is one of 4,000 long-term missing children on the center's books. Morgan Nick, 6, was taken from a baseball field in 1995 while she was playing with a friend in Arkansas. Johnny Gosch, 12, was delivering newspapers in Iowa in 1982 and never came back. Elizabeth Gill, 2, inexplicably vanished while playing outside her Missouri home more than 50 years ago.
"Even after 10 years, the McCanns should not give up hope," Elizabeth Gill's sister, Martha Hamilton, 67, told USA TODAY. "We still have leads that come in."
May 25 is International Missing Children's Day.
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