Missing Maddie McCann case development gives hope to other families of missing children
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    Missing Maddie McCann case development gives hope to other families of missing children

    A new development in the case of Madeleine McCann, the toddler who went missing in Portugal in 2007, has attracted the attention of parents of missing children in Belgium, according to Alain Remue, the head of the federal police’s missing persons unit.

    Remue was already in his post when Maddie went missing, and his unit was involved because of dozens of reports the three-year-old had been sighted in Belgium.

    Nothing ever came of those reports or all of the reports of sightings elsewhere across the world.

    Now, German police have said they believe one man, a German citizen currently in prison, is a person of interest in the case. The man has a record of sexual offences and spent time in Portugal at around the time of Maddie’s disappearance.

    When I heard the news, I thought how nice it would be if this mystery could finally be solved,” Remue told the VRT programme De Afspraak. But he advised caution.

    “We’ve already seen a couple of suspects come and go, and nothing more was heard of them.”

    Remue, whose experience goes back to the time of serial killer Marc Dutroux, may have more years as a missing persons investigator than anyone, but he still feels hope in what may seem to others hopeless cases.

    So do the parents of missing children.

    Liam Vanden Branden was two years old when he went missing in Mechelen in May 1996. “When I heard the news, my immediate thought was that I hoped the parents would now finally get an answer,” Liam’s father Dirk told VRT radio. “For myself, I can only carry on hoping that sooner or later we will also get an answer to our questions.”

    I’ve been terribly disappointed in the past, so I’m cautious about saying that hope makes life worth living,” he said. “It is certainly not the case that time heals all wounds because you cannot have closure with such an unresolved disappearance. My son Liam was two years old when he disappeared on May 3, 1996 at 5.15 pm at the Zennegat in Mechelen. That’s all that we know, and all we have to go on with.”

    Nathalie, the daughter of Eric Geijsbregts, was ten when she went missing in 1991, in a time when missing children barely made the inside pages of the papers, let alone posters on buses and announcements on social media.

    Nathalie would now, 29 years later, be older than her father was then, but he still has not lost the flicker of hope every time he hears news of a missing child case resolved.

    The first thing I focus on is that person’s age and who he is,” he told Radio 2 in Flemish Brabant and Brussels. “I want to check whether that man has anything to do with our case. The German man in the Madeleine McCann case is now 43 years old, so if we go back 29 years, then he was 13 or 14 years old. So he’s not a suspect for us, that’s for sure.”

    And even if the resolution offers no solace, he understands where the McCann parents are now.

    As a parent, you naturally want to know what happened,” he said. “I like to compare it to an hourglass. You sit at first in the top of an hourglass, amid the tumult of everything that’s going on. Then you go down through that small hole and everything is fine again. But there comes a time when someone turns the hourglass upside down again when there appear new facts and evidence, and suddenly you’re back on top. Time and again you have to go through that hole, time and again through all those emotions. Luckily, it goes a little bit faster over time.”

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times