New Hope for Parents of Missing Madeleine McCann

Madeleine McAnn’s been missing for six years. But the escape of three Cleveland women this week offers new hope for the British girl’s parents.

05.08.13 12:24 PM ET

Just last week the parents of missing Briton Madeleine McCann marked the six-year anniversary of their daughter’s disappearance by attending a poignant ceremony in their hometown church in Leicestershire, England. They made the local television rounds, reminding holiday makers heading to the Algarve, Portugal, where Madeleine disappeared in 2007, to take along posters of what their daughter would look like now.  A few days later, Madeleine’s mother, Kate, set off for Portugal to revisit the scene where her daughter disappeared in an attempt to “feel closer” to her. She said she felt more optimistic than ever that her daughter would be found. 

Those feelings were amplified on Monday when three American women who had been missing for a decade were found in a ramshackle house in Cleveland. Amanda Berry, who was abducted when she was 16, Gina DeJesus, who was abducted when she was 14, and Michelle Knight, who went missing at the age of 20, were rescued on Monday night. The women had been abducted on separate occasions, and they had lived together in captivity for a decade before Berry literally broke through the door of the house and caught the attention of the neighbors. A 6-year-old girl identified as Berry’s daughter was also discovered with the women. 

Like McCann, the mothers of the missing women had never given up hope. Last year, on the eighth anniversary of DeJesus’s disappearance, her mother wore a bright yellow T-shirt with a photo of her daughter taken days before she disappeared with the words “Have You Seen Me?” Berry’s mother died three years after the abduction, news that her daughter would have learned only after she was freed this week. Knight’s mother had always assumed her daughter ran away by choice and had waited for years to hear from her. "The discovery of these young women reaffirms our hope of finding Madeleine, which has never diminished," the McCanns said in a statement. "Their recovery is also further evidence that children are sometimes abducted and kept for long periods. So we ask the public to remain vigilant in the ongoing search for Madeleine. Our thoughts are with the women in America and their families."

The three Cleveland women call to mind several other high-profile missing children who were discovered many years after their disappearance. Jaycee Dugard, who was held captive for 18 years in a squalid series of tents by her abductor, who fathered her two children.  Dugard was found in 2009. Elizabeth Smart, who was abducted in 2002, was raped almost daily for nine months before escaping her captor. In the United States, there are currently around 500,000 missing children on the national database, of which roughly one third are believed to have been kidnapped by parents, often in custody battles.  Of those missing children, 57 percent will eventually come home alive, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.  More than 97 percent of those are found in the first 72 hours.  In Europe, the number of missing children is much lower than in the United States, with less than 200,000 missing children reported across the 27-country euro zone, and the chances of finding them are much higher, at nearly 90 percent, according to Missing Children Europe which keeps an active database.

For the McCanns, the statistics and news from Cleveland offer fresh hope. According to Kate McCann, even the terrifying ordeals told by the women who survived years of sexual and psychological abuse in captivity cannot compare to the daily tragedy of not knowing if her daughter is alive or dead. Like so many of the parents of missing children who are eventually found, the McCanns take comfort in their unwavering belief she is still out there. McCann says she still feels like her daughter just disappeared. 

“In many ways, nothing's changed,” Kate McCann wrote on the Find Madeleine website on the anniversary of her death. “We still worry about her, we miss her as much as we ever did, we remain as determined as ever to find her and to know what has happened.”