'Keep hoping, keep looking, keep praying, don't give up'

'Keep hoping, keep looking, keep praying, don't give up'
The search for Madeleine Day 11
The Sunday Mirror
13 May 2007
Lori Campbell and Simon Wright in Praia da Luz and Susie Boniface in London

Mum's birthday plea
Dad tells of a 'tidal wave' of devastation for her family
Nine Brits quizzed over 'middle man' in abduction
Intruders crept in via the unlocked patio doors

IT was the cruellest day any mother could face. She should have been celebrating her little girl's fourth birthday at a party packed with friends, family and laughter.  Instead Kate McCann had to endure yet another day without her precious daughter, managing only a brave and grateful smile as Portuguese children gave her presents and messages for missing Madeleine after a special church service last night.

As the hunt enters another unbearable week today, Kate began Saturday with a growing despair. In a statement read on her behalf she pleaded: "On Madeleine's birthday, please keep looking, please keep praying, please help bring Madeleine home."

It has now been 11 days since Madeleine was snatched from her hotel bed during the family holiday on the Algarve. Last night Kate and husband Gerry arrived at the 16th Century Our Lady Luz church for evening mass. Green and yellow ribbons were tied to the door - green as a symbol of hope for their daughter's safe return, yellow in remembrance that she's missing.  As the couple walked into church, Kate clutched Madeleine's Cuddle Cat toy. It has not left her side since the daughter vanished.  During the service, Gerry spoke of the "tidal wave" of devastation wreaked by the abduction, telling villagers he and his wife Kate had drawn "strength, hope and courage" from friends, family, the community in Praia da Luz, at home, across Europe and even around the world.  Shaking with emotion, he said: "We are looking forward to the day when Madeleine returns to us as a joyous one."  And after the service he added: "We walked out of this church believing that we will see Madeleine soon and she will be safe and well and we will continue to hope.

Kate managed her first smile in many days as the congregation formed a Guard of Honour to applaud them. Carrying flowers and presents for Madeleine, she kissed on the cheek by women wellwishers after the two-hour mass. The couple were visibly moved as they walked past the line of villagers and holidaymakers showing their support.  Red and yellow balloons were released into the air bearing the words "I Love You", and children gave out pieces of paper with birthday messages to Madeleine. Earlier in the day, Kate prepared a new statement for the media. But in the end she was just too broken to face the TV crews.

Instead a spokesman for holiday firm Mark Warner read the statement for family. The rest of it said: "Today is our daughter Madeleine's fourth birthday. We would like to mark today by asking people to redouble their efforts to help find Madeleine. We know that there is already a huge amount of effort and resource being put into the search for our daughter. We also know that offers of support are being made daily. It is this that gives us hope."

Yesterday was the first time Kate's strength, which had held up through countless public appeals in which pain was clearly written on her face, had deserted her.  For the first time she had begun to fear Portuguese police could wind up their search with her daughter still not returned to her and no clear leads.

Her uncle Brian Kennedy, 68, said: "She just couldn't put herself through it. We have all urged her to stay inside, to regain her strength."  Kate's family fear that the 38-year-old GP is near collapse. Mr Kennedy said that she was becoming dangerously frail. He said: "We don't know how long she can go on like this. She's going through unimaginable misery. Madeleine is the centre of her world and she feels an unbearable void to be without her on her birthday. We're all deeply worried - she's lost a lot of weight and looks gaunt, almost skeletal."  Kate spent most of yesterday privately in the villa she and Gerry and their two-year-old twins Sean and Amelie have now moved to.  They appeared briefly when they went to the Mark Warner complex Madeleine was abducted from.

Meanwhile, a newly-released poster of Madeleine shows her distinctive right eye - where the pupil runs into the blue-green iris - which could easily identify the little girl if her captors try to disguise her.

Portuguese detectives now believe nine British holidaymakers hold the key to finding her kidnapper.  Police sniffer dogs have tracked Madeleine's scent to a local supermarket and two apartments where the group were staying, only yards from where she was snatched.  The nine Brits have been helping police with their inquiries over the last three days. Police believe they may have unwittingly come into contact with a "middle man" of Madeleine's abductor or abductors at the Ocean Club in Prai da Luz, Portugal. There is no suggestion the nine are suspects, but they are seen as important witnesses. The news fuelled speculation that a holidaymaker the McCanns may have met was involved in the abduction.

A police source said: "We are hoping we can reach the kidnapper or kidnappers' middle man through these nine. They have all been questioned as potential witnesses. They were staying at two apartments that the sniffer dogs have tracked Madeleine's scent to."

MADELEINE was snatched from the family's apartment at 10pm on May 3 while her parents were having a restaurant meal just 50 yards away.  Two men and a blonde woman seen at a petrol station driving a car with UK plates last week have emerged as prime suspects.  Witnesses say all three seemed to be English and were driving a car with yellow-and-black registration plates like UK cars.

Local shopkeepers have also been shown CCTV printouts of three people, including a man aged about 40 with dark hair down to his shoulders, a blonde woman of about 40 with her hair in a ponytail and an older woman with collar-length hair. The three were clearly not Portuguese and "looked English".

There are now just 30 police officers assigned to the investigation, scaled down from the original 150 that scoured the surrounding area for clues.  Detectives - who have come under attack for a series of blunders - are working late into the night at the area's police headquarters in the town of Portimao. Some have even been sleeping at the office.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Mirror can reveal that Madeleine was snatched through patio doors which had been left unlocked.  It was originally thought shutters at the front of the villa had been broken and jammed open by the kidnappers. But Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa confided in former British Chief Inspector Albert Kirby that neither the windows or their metal shutters had been tampered with.  Mr Kirby, who led the Jamie Bulger inquiry and is currently in Portugal, revealed it was the sliding patio doors of the ground floor apartment that allowed Madeleine to be quietly and quickly kidnapped.  The McCanns would have used the patio doors as they checked on their children during their meal. They had a direct line of sight to the apartment from their table at the restaurant opposite, but their view of the doors was obscured by a hedge.  Mr Kirby told the Sunday Mirror: "I had a very interesting chat with the officer in charge. The window shutters are not at all involved. The door was left unlocked. The window's shutters are almost impossible to open from the outside."

The McCanns have vowed to remain in Portugal until their daughter can come home with them.  Madeleine's grandparents Susan and Brian Healey last night described the little girl as "a special gift from God".  Susan said: "It would take a lifetime for us to thank all the people who have offered support. Now we just want our Madeleine brought home.  "We don't know how long Kate and Gerry are going to stay out there for.  "At the moment it is just a frightening thought that life could ever go on again without Madeleine."

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