The Maddie McCann Story Continues

Readers — The name Maddie McCann may well still resonate for you. She’s the girl who was stolen from her hotel room in Portugal in 2007.  Her parents were eating in a restaurant nearby. When I give my talks, I often ask my audiences if they can think of ANY other story they’ve heard out of Portugal…

For the last 500 years.

Usually, they can’t. My point is that this story came to us from an ocean away because it is so incredibly important…to the news media. Why?

Because it’s a crime that no parent could have predicted. As such, it makes parents terrified (and glued to the TV — great for ratings), because it purports to teach us that our kids are NEVER safe unless we are with them every single second.

So now comes this column about the case in yesterday’s Toronto Sun, tied to the release of a new electronically generated photo of a suspect. The writer tries to sound reasonable and even non-judgmental, pointing out that while many parents leave their kids for a short while, “few come back to an empty bed.”

But then…ah…it goes where the media can’t seem to resist. It begs us to consider ABDUCTION every time we think we can reasonably take our eyes off our kids:

The McCann case has stayed in the news, not just because the missing child was adorable and privileged — although that helps — but because so many around the world identified with the parents and their lapse. That could have been us, they say, on vacation, not a care in the world, not dreaming that a stranger was waiting his chance.

Like the 1991 Bernardo/Homolka case, in which one of the notorious couple’s teenage victims, Leslie Mahaffy, had been locked out of her home by an exasperated parent, and then picked up by her killer, Madeleine’s case has changed attitudes, maybe saved lives. I remember passionately arguing with a mother who told me she had locked her rebellious daughter out after she missed curfew. No, I said, you can’t do that. Remember Leslie Mahaffy.

Remember Madeleine McCann, parents say to themselves if they are tempted to slip away for a moment. Our children are almost uniformly safe. Statistics bear that out. But knowing about one child who wasn’t safe can influence parents everywhere.

It sure can. Especially when the media continue to present the case as a cautionary tale, instead of an event so wildly unpredictable and almost unheard of that it made headlines around the world. Anything that unusual should NOT change the way we live our lives, any more than a plane crash should make us avoid ever getting on a plane again.

But, as usual, that’s the plea the media makes: “No, I said, you can’t do that. Remember Leslie Mahaffy.” And remember Maddie. Remember the saddest, least likely stories from literally around the globe when making everyday parenting decisions in your own neighborhood, thousands of miles away.

Yours truly begs you to remember something else instead: Your own childhood, before parents were routinely exhorted to obsess about death. – L.

Yes, it's empty. I was going to paste in a photo of Maddie McCann, but then I felt like it would only add to the problem of us over-identifying with unlikely tragedies.

I was going to paste in a photo of Maddie McCann, but then I felt like it would only add to the problem of us over-identifying with unlikely tragedies.

 

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59 Responses to The Maddie McCann Story Continues

  1. mobk October 17, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

    You almost had me on stories from Portugal in the last 500 years, but then I remembered the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.

    Obviously it is a very dangerous place if all that ever happens there are child abductions and earthquakes :-)

  2. J.T. Wenting October 18, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    she wasn’t stolen, she disappeared. It’s never been found out what happened to her, how, or why.

    My guess is she wandered off, went exploring, got lost, and somehow ended up dead (or taken in by someone too scared after all the media hype about child abduction to come forward out of fear (s)he’d be arrested and thrown in jail).
    But everyone has been so focused on her being abducted and sold as a sex slave or something that nothing else has ever been looked into.

    If the girl is still alive, she will have a new name, new identity, probably live in another country, and call someone else mommy and daddy, people who love her and take care of her like an adopted child.

  3. Krystal October 18, 2013 at 1:40 am #

    My favorite quote is the one likening it to the 1981 case. That’s right, the case that was more than 2 decades BEFORE this case. Grasping at straws, that.

  4. Heather October 18, 2013 at 4:45 am #

    What I find freaky about the whole McCann case is that the parents spent months chasing around looking for her in Portugal, doing everything they possibly could to keep the case in teh media. They went to the Pope, for goodness sake.

    Maddie’s siblings, who are twins, were back in England with a grandparent for at least part of that, and when they are older they will know that their mother was extensively quoted as saying her world had collapsed because their older sister has disappeared, with barely a word mentioned about how glad she might be that they remain with them.

    That’s the sister who they will not directly remember, but who will have been an ever-present aspect of their life. I think they might consider her the sister that stole their parents.

    H

  5. J.T. Wenting October 18, 2013 at 4:55 am #

    “What I find freaky about the whole McCann case is that the parents spent months chasing around looking for her in Portugal, doing everything they possibly could to keep the case in teh media”

    which was a campaign orchestrated to direct attention away from the fact that they themselves were (and afaik to the Portuguese authorities still are) prime suspects in the girl’s disappearance.

  6. nancey October 18, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    What if the media did an up close and personal story for each child killed in a car accident? Would that stop us from letting children be in a car? No, such a risk is acceptable. Even if it is higher than that of kidnapping, somehow we feel more in control as if we can prevent such happenings.

  7. Mike in Virginia October 18, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    That’s exactly what I was thinking, J.T., that the McCann’s are still suspects in this case. How horrible it would be to be treated as a suspect if your child was abducted, and I won’t pass judgement on this particular case, since I don’t know. But I do believe that, even in the very rare cases of child kidnappings we do hear about, in some of those cases, the child wasn’t even kidnapped at all. If the parents did something to cause a child’s death and fear prosecution, lying about a kidnapping AND keeping the story in the media, is a strategy.

  8. Captain America October 18, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    . . . and a man on a golf course was once struck by lighting.

    Therefore, ban golf.

  9. Warren October 18, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    6 yrs. Sorry, but move on. These parents are investing so much of themselves in finding her, which won’t happen. We know that from past experience, that Maddie is gone, one way or the other. They have to move on, or they will lose the children they have. They need to move on and enjoy life with what they have, and not lose it.

  10. Donna October 18, 2013 at 9:07 am #

    I’m annoyed that they refer to the parent’s decision as “a lapse” (I assume in judgment). It wasn’t a lapse, it was a rational decision that happened to have a horribly sad, but highly unusual, outcome.

    I hate that the media keeps propagating this idea that kids should never be left alone. It makes it very stressful to leave kids home alone. I admit that the main reason that I finally allowed my daughter to enroll in taekwondo with me, although she is already over engaged (in my opinion, not hers), is that I found it stressful to leave her home alone 2-3 times a week while I went to class. Not because I think something is going to happen to her. I know that, barring some highly unusual occurrence, the worst that will happen is that she’ll sneak extra treats. I do worry that I’ll come home to police cars and child services in the driveway.

    (I also hate that my child only has helicoptered friends making me worried that one of their parents will call child services or blacklist our house when Maya mentions that she stays home alone while I take a class).

  11. Rick October 18, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Is it really just important to the news media? Behavior modification serves the goal of those wishing to control society. It is no coincidence that the rise of the national security surveillance state has given rise to over-protection of children. After all, how can the government justify the invasiveness and the enormous amount of money spent and lives lost in foreign wars if there isn’t an external threat continually at our backs. One Portuguese child pales in comparison to the number of child casualties from US bombs and sanctions and yet that is almost never discussed by the news media. One rare instance from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omnskeu-puE

  12. Ann in L.A. October 18, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    There was that pesky little invasion by and subsequent war against Napoleon, with Wellington stuck in Portugal for a lot of it.

  13. Rob October 18, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    So normally I am on board with your blogs…I generally find them a voice of calm in the face of the media trying to scare the logical soul out of all of us. But let me ask you: are you endorsing what Maddie’s parents did – leave her alone while they went to eat – as okay?

    I have no problem leaving my five-year-old alone in the house while I chat with a neighbor – she knows where I am. I have no problem letting her play in the front yard or across the street with her friend.

    But would I leave her in an apartment in a resort in a foreign country (or this country, for that matter) for any length of time while I ate with friends nearby? No. It’s not that I would worry necessarily about someone breaking in and abducting her – I would worry that she would do something to place herself in harm’s way. Kids can be clumsy, not to mention pretty much unaware of how they can hurt themselves in the world.

    And to leave her with her younger twins? Again, no.

    The whole situation with the McCann’s is a tragedy born of faulty assumptions and possibly selfish behavior (because all kids sleep like rocks and never suddenly wake up on their own).

    Please don’t say it’s okay to leave your three-year-old alone in an apartment, at night, in a foreign country, even if it is a “resort” and you’re sitting half a football field away. That is not okay.

  14. Alhassane Keita October 18, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Portugal is noteworthy because they ended drug prohibition in 2001. Just like all the parents who let their adolescents do things on their own, Portugal did not experience any of the negative effects the prohibitionists said they would. All drug use is down and they don’t waste money locking up dope smokers.

  15. Papilio October 18, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Well, the economical crisis hit hard in Portugal, many people lost their job and many young people migrated to the northern countries hoping to find a job.

    Maddie even made the news here this week, because (yes, the media here still need an excuse) the British police has asked other European countries to find out who might have been in that same apartment or whatever when Maddie disappeared.

    And indeed, leaving a 3yo in a hotelroom to have dinner in a restaurant does not sound very smart (for other, more likely risks).

  16. M Almeida October 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Hello from Portugal. This is my first time commenting on the site, but I feel I can give a little more perspective on the Portuguese reality.

    This case has stayed on the news only because the McCann’s have the means to do so and because this was not a Portuguese child.

    Portuguese investigators belive Maddie to be dead, and that her parents had probably something to do with it. Creeps me out to just consider the possibility, but stranger things have happened.

    Cases like this are thankfully rare here (as they are anyware), in my lifetime, I’m 34, I can remember one other similar case of a child missing. You probably never heard of it because it was a poor portuguese boy. His fate is unknown, but the most credible theory is that he was kidnaped and sent abroad, mos likely to Spain by a family accointance. This man has been on trial, but the court found no sufficient evidence to convict.

    And by the way, a lot has happened in Portugal in the last 500 years, not the least the fact that 500 years ago we pretty much were the most powerful nation on Earth, with an empire spanning four continents. Of course we then messed it up and let the Spannish, French, Dutch and British take most of it, but hey, that’s life.

  17. Donna October 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    @Rob – The children were all asleep. Whether this is a good idea depends on your confidence that your children will remain asleep. If your kid is prone to waking up during the night, this is probably not a good idea.

    Once she is asleep, my kid sleeps like a rock There were several times that I went to a neighbor’s house and hung out after my daughter went to bed when she was that age. These parents were no further away. I also took the dog for a walk – outside of view of my house – every night while she slept.

  18. Rick October 18, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    I think leaving a kid sleeping in a hotel room while the parents enjoyed a dinner with friends is a bad idea, however I don’t think that’s a reason to make world wide front page news either, whatever happens to the kid, usually nothing. I think that’s Lenore’s point.

  19. Heather October 18, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    I actually agree with the Portuguese police. Maddy is probably dead.

    I just wish the UK was not spending a vast sum on redoing the work of the Portuguese police with a strong bias toward to the McCanns’ view.

    And frankly, the news that reaches other countries is rarely the good news. So it’s to Portugal’s credit that we don’t hear these stories. Only their economic news, sadly.

    H

  20. Maggie October 18, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    “What if the media did an up close and personal story for each child killed in a car accident? Would that stop us from letting children be in a car? No, such a risk is acceptable. Even if it is higher than that of kidnapping, somehow we feel more in control as if we can prevent such happenings.”

    THIS.

    If you tell a parent the most dangerous thing they do is put their child in a car, they scoff. They KNOW it’s dangerous, but they well tell you how they are safe drivers, and lecture about car seats and seat belts, yadda yadda. But no matter what they say, their child is the most likely to die in a car accident. No matter how safe they try to be, it’s still a leading cause of child death.

    People LIKE events like kidnappings and disappearances, because then they can say “I would NEVER do that!” and then they feel smugly safe. In fact, their children will most likely never be in danger of kidnapping.

    It’s all perceived risk, vs real risk.

  21. Sasa Southard October 18, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Brava, Lenore for bringing a sane view to an unrealistic viewpoint.

  22. one mom October 18, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    “But let me ask you: are you endorsing what Maddie’s parents did – leave her alone while they went to eat – as okay?

    I have no problem leaving my five-year-old alone in the house while I chat with a neighbor – she knows where I am. I have no problem letting her play in the front yard or across the street with her friend.

    But would I leave her in an apartment in a resort in a foreign country (or this country, for that matter) for any length of time while I ate with friends nearby? No. It’s not that I would worry necessarily about someone breaking in and abducting her – I would worry that she would do something to place herself in harm’s way. Kids can be clumsy, not to mention pretty much unaware of how they can hurt themselves in the world.

    And to leave her with her younger twins? Again, no. ”

    Agree with this. I am a free-range parent, but you don’t leave a THREE year old and TWO BABIES alone in a HOTEL ROOM in a FOREIGN COUNTRY with the door unlocked. This is not being free range, or even common sense. This is crazy.

  23. Papilio October 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    “If you tell a parent the most dangerous thing they do is put their child in a car, they scoff. They KNOW it’s dangerous, but they well tell you how they are safe drivers, and lecture about car seats and seat belts, yadda yadda.”

    And of course they react that way because the downside of not putting the kids in the car and thus avoid that risk is so obvious to all. Telling parents the downside of their hovering is more like telling teens not to smoke: the negative consequences are some vague future thing they don’t want to worry about here and now.

    @M Almeida: “Of course we then messed it up and let the Spannish, French, Dutch and British take most of it”
    Yeah, sorry about that… LOL
    But hey, Amsterdam would not have its canals and nice buildings today if we hadn’t stolen your maps to India, so thank you! :)

  24. Jenny Islander October 18, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Leaving a preschool-aged child alone in a strange room in a place where she doesn’t speak the language? No, I wouldn’t. But, as someone already said, not for fear of abduction. I would be more worried that she would wander off and get lost, or wander into the hotel kitchen and get hurt, or try to get herself a drink using the glass tumblers provided in the room, break one, and cut herself, or just wake up and be terrified to find us gone. I would have one of us hang out with the sleeping tot while the other got food for us to eat in our room. Which in fact was exactly what I did when we traveled with a two-year-old.

  25. Gina October 18, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    ROB, ONE MOM–I completely agree that three is too young to be left alone (or with baby siblings) ANYWHERE at night. I teach 2-3-year-olds and I can say, with confidence, that not one child, even the brightest most mature, of all the kids I’ve taught would be up to this if there was any kind of problem. And the fact that she was in a foreign country and didn’t speak the language merely compounds the issue.
    DONNA-it doesn’t matter how soundly your child sleeps, s/he can still wake up with a raging fever or vomiting and need an adult. Abduction may be unlikely, but illness in young children is commonplace.
    Three is just too young.

  26. J.T. Wenting October 19, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    “Leaving a preschool-aged child alone in a strange room in a place where she doesn’t speak the language? No, I wouldn’t.”

    Happened to me all the time as a kid. Never for long, of course.
    But it’s common, nothing bad happens.
    And more often I went out on my own, get some bread rolls and stuff for breakfast, pointing out what I wanted and do the entire transaction pointing fingers and hands.
    Nothing bad ever happened though I might have occasionally overpaid.

    Best way to make children independent, put them in situations that are not utterly predictable, cookie cutter things (are children allowed cookie cutters these days, there’s sharp edges on those things, they could get hurt…).

  27. Nicole October 19, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    I’ve always found it exceedingly odd that they left the children alone. It’s just, not something most western parents would do. And then it just happens to be that the child is abducted (super rare occurrence) the one time they leave her alone? And the abductor takes her but not the two babies?

    The whole thing is weird. The only two logical things that could have happened is she wandered off (to where, I don’t know- maybe some nice portuguese family found her and were afraid to return her that they’d be accused of kidnapping, that’s what I’d like to think) or someone is covering up her death.

  28. Warren October 19, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    Gina,
    If your kid is normally a healthy person, and when they go to bed healthy, the chances of them waking in a couple of hours with a raging fever, or sick as a dog, are as remote as being abducted.
    If they wake that way, then you missed signs earlier that they were feeling ill.

  29. Donna October 19, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    “it doesn’t matter how soundly your child sleeps, s/he can still wake up with a raging fever or vomiting and need an adult. Abduction may be unlikely, but illness in young children is commonplace.”

    Wouldn’t that be true at any age? A 15 year old could wake up with appendicitis. Does that mean that I need a nighttime babysitter for my 15 year old? By that age, I was left alone for entire weekends in a rural area with no ambulance service while my parents were out of the state. I legitimately could have died with a ruptured appendix, but my family chose not to focus on things that there is less of a chance of that us winning the lottery.

    My child has once in her life woken up vomiting (after everyone we knew had a stomach virus so not unexpected) and has never had a raging fever at all. I am damn near 100% certain that if I left her tonight while she slept to go to dinner at the neighbors that she would not for the first time in her life, despite being perfectly healthy when put to bed, develop a raging fever.

    I trust that these people know their children and know the likelihood of them waking up, wandering, having a raging fever or stomach flu on that particular evening.

    I also trust them to make a decision based on their surroundings. Would I leave my child asleep on the 22nd floor or the Paris Hotel in Vegas while I am in one of the 15 restaurants? No, not even at 8. Would I leave my child asleep in a small inn while I’m in the garden eating with friends. ABSOLUTELY!! Been there. Done that. Didn’t have a single worry in the world. A hotel in Portugal is much more likely to be the later than the former.

    And the fact remains that NONE of the worries people are listing happened. The child didn’t get sick. The child most likely didn’t wander off. The ONLY theories in this case have been that the parents did something to the child or that someone went into the room. A child would not wander off and disappear without a single trace. Somebody would have seen her somewhere. People were around. A body would have been found if she had met an accidental death. A nice family did not find a young blue-eyed blonde British child highly publicized as missing and decide to keep her without a single person known to those people reporting it to the police in 6 years despite the continued publicity(sorry, but that is completely and utterly ridiculous akin to aliens stole her).

  30. Donna October 19, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    “And then it just happens to be that the child is abducted (super rare occurrence) the one time they leave her alone?”

    Who says that it was the first time they left them alone? It wouldn’t surprise me if they did it every night while on vacation. Kids that young do best if bed early, no later than 8. I’ve never been to Portugal but I believe that the traditional dinner hour is after 9. It would seem fairly commonplace to put the kids to bed and then eat. As long as you are close enough by to check on the kids regularly (and they were), I have no problem with this.

    You may make different choices, but that doesn’t mean that theirs were wrong for their family. I am sure that you do things that I think are wrong choices for my family.

    “And the abductor takes her but not the two babies?”

    Like that never happens? I seem to remember people saying the same thing about Elizabeth Smart (who was kidnapped from a bedroom she shared with her younger sister) and Polly Klauss (who was kidnapped from her bedroom with several other girls spending the night) and both were true.

  31. lollipoplover October 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Whenever a rare event happens, I brings out the “Never let them out of your sight!” parenting police. Fact is, whenever we sleep our kids are out of sight.HOw do you go to the bathroom without letting them out of sight? Anything can happen, even if a parent is in the next room with a monitor on.

    Confession: When my daughter was 2, she woke up screaming and my husband got her, his turn, I was 8 months pregnant. He came back to bed saying she wanted a bottle of milk. We were in the bottle/sippy cup transition period and were trying to give her a sippy cup of water instead (which she threw across the room). We let her cry herself back to sleep (so we thought) and then heard the doorbell and banging on our front door. It was 3am and pouring rain out. I opened the door and found two police cars and a police officer telling me they got a 911 call from our house with no response and they had our house surrounded because there might be an intruder in our back room.

    Turns out, the intruder was my 2 year-old who just learned emergency numbers that week in preschool, called 911 (the milk was an emergency!), left the phone off the hook, and was trying to get the milk from the fridge on her own with a chair from the dinner table. The police followed me back to the door and told me to contain my child better. She was still in a crib! This all happened with two parents *supervising*.

  32. one mom October 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    “Whenever a rare event happens, I brings out the “Never let them out of your sight!” parenting police.”

    A bit judgemental, are we?
    As a responsible parent, you take all the necessary steps to keep them safe, and in time, you let them go. When my kids were babies, I put up baby gates and put them in playpens when I went to the bathroom. I leave my 8 y/o home alone on occasions. I wouldn’t leave my 4 y/o home alone though. Just because I exercise a bit of common sense when I make decisions regarding my kids’ safety, it doesn’t make me “Never let them out of your sight police”. Also, it doesn’t mean that NOTHING bad could happen to them. Accidents happen, despite all the precautions.
    Extremes are never good.

  33. Papilio October 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    @Donna: “A body would have been found if she had met an accidental death”

    Unless the person who found her (her parents in case of an accidental or natural death in the hotelroom) or caused that accident (in case she did wander off, under a car) panicked and hid the body…

  34. Gina October 19, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    ONE MOM–Again, I completely agree. Three is too young. Six might not be. But THREE is TOO YOUNG.

  35. Buffy October 19, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Leaving aside whether or not leaving kids sleeping in a locked you are 50 meters away is a good idea, I still think what happened here required a “perfect storm” of events.

    At the exact time that the parents went to dinner, there had to be a kidnapper lurking around waiting for the opportunity to snatch a kid left alone. He had to see them leave, and KNOW that the kids were in the apartment without a babysitter or other arrangements having been made for them.

    And if he was only a burglar, he immediately became a kidnapper when he broke into the apartment (how often does someone seeking money or personal property decide to grab a child instead?) And yet somehow this was so well-planned that he was able to either keep her or hide her body so that she would never be found, alive or dead.

    I find it all awfully coincidental.

  36. Donna October 20, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Papilio – Certainly possible but the odds of the parents being able to find a place on the fly (in the case of an accidental death) in a FOREIGN COUNTRY to hide a body that still hasn’t been found 6 years later are extremely small.

    Same with a non criminal, even in their own country. If you just strike a child on the street and decide to hide the body, you are unlikely to do it well as you are not particularly experienced at committing crimes. Further that odds that NOBODY saw that occur at all are extremely low.

    Both are possibilities but kidnapping by a stranger is actually more likely in thus case.

  37. Papilio October 20, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    And no one saw that occur either, Donna…

    That a 3yo disappeared without a trace for six years is also very unlikely. Whatever happened, it was unlikely.

    @Buffy: a burglar who snuck in thinking no one was there, but who woke the girl and suddenly had a witness to get rid off??
    We just don’t know enough details…

  38. Paula October 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    To say that they had only gone a few feet is a misnomer. To get to the restaurant they had to go out of the building and into the resort there was no direct route from the apartment they where using and the restaurant. Also the parents didn’t want to use the day care. They where ok with leaving the kids with the free day care but wouldn’t pay for the evening day care.

  39. Donna October 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Papilio – Yes, anything happening at all was highly unlikely. But it did. Out of the possibilities as to what did happen, kidnapping is by far the most likely scenario, followed by parents killed her and managed to hide the body.

    The reasoning is simple. A kidnapper, even if it is his first time, has spent YEARS fantasizing about this. He has read kidnap/murder stories on the internet, etc. Even if the act of doing is spontaneous, it is the result of a dream that has been in his head for a long time. He would take measures to make sure that he wasn’t seen.

    If you are just driving down the road and strike a child, you weren’t acting in secret in driving down the road. You weren’t waiting for a crowd to clear, other cars to be off the road, curtains to be closed. It would be extremely lucky if you happened to hit the child at a time when not a single person was on the road or looking out a window. Not completely impossible but certainly much less likely than a planned or even chance, because all circumstances are perfect, kidnapping.

    Second, unlike a kidnapper, you also have probably not spent the last several years of your life devising ways in your mind to hide a body should you just happen to accidentally kill someone. You are acting on pure panic and spur of the moment. You are far more likely to miss things and make stupid mistakes.

    Likewise with the parents accidentally killing her. Those cases are almost solved and very quickly because parents are not professional body hiders. Add in the fact that the parents are in an unfamiliar place and the body hasn’t been found in 6 years. That would take a damn immense amount of luck to randomly select a burial place in an unfamiliar area so good that it has defeated detection for 6 years. And the fact that the parents are so rabid about keeping this story in the press rather than letting it slowly die, indicates that they weren’t involved.

    And the fact is that kids are kidnapped without a trace. Kidnapping itself is rare, but when it happens, it is most frequently without anyone seeing anything. Hit and run is very common. Parents accidentally killing a kid and hiding the body is common enough. Stranger hit, steal the body and hide it has never happened in my years as a criminal attorney and would be an extremely bizarre occurrence.

    I am not saying that the other scenarios aren’t possible, just much less likely. There are reasons that kidnapping is now considered the main theory.

  40. Donna October 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    @Paula – They were approximately 50 meters from their apartment. That is about half of a football field in distance. You could easily travel back and forth to check on sleeping children. It would take about 2 minutes round trip at a slow walk.

    Further this judgment of what they did is not remotely related to what happened. There may have been legitimate risks of leaving a child that age home alone asleep. Risks that they probably considered when making their plans. And if any of those things had befallen the child, we could start discussing whether they made the right choice. But those risks do not include in any way the extremely unlikely scenario of the child being kidnapped by strangers which is most likely what happened here. I don’t understand this need to blame these parents because they put their children at risk for AB&C when Z, which could have just as easily happened when they were home as we’ve seen repeatedly, is what happened.

  41. Papilio October 20, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    I agree the chances of a tourist finding a good place to hide a dead 3yo are small, but I think it could be doable for a local who knows which places people hardly ever go, without thinking about it for years.
    Plus, five of those six years it was crisis. If there were plans to develop land or do roadwork or whatever whereever the body is buried, good chance it didn’t happen.

    “It would be extremely lucky if you happened to hit the child at a time when not a single person was on the road or looking out a window.”
    Well… it was already dark, and dinner time. Who knows how difficult it was.

  42. pentamom October 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    Donna — EXACTLY. Whether or not we may individually feel that leaving a four year old and two babies alone in a room out of sight and sound of the parents but within a very short distance is a wise thing to do, the fact remains that it is not the kind of “endangering” a child that allows any of the blame to be placed on the parents (unless, of course, the parents actually DID harm the child themselves, which is a different matter entirely.) Whatever bad things we can think of that make it not a good thing to do, “some random person we have no knowledge of might come and steal the child” is not a likely enough possibility to consider as a reason not to do it. Since the other things that might make it a bad idea (maybe the child will wake up sick or get hurt) are not life-threatening possibilities, then the choice to do it should not be treated as though it endangered the child’s life, even though in this case, that was the extremely unlikely thing that did happen. Unless, of course, we treat every choice that unintentionally results in harm as “endangering the child,” like putting them in a car, or letting them eat (in the case of choking) or letting them go to school (in the case of a natural disaster or criminal act) or some similarly normal activity that has an unexpected bad outcome.

  43. Richard October 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I find the reference to the Bernardo/Homolka case interesting as presumably the writer would prefer having a child placed in the care of her adult sister rather than stay alone. However, the first of their victims was Homolka’s sister.

  44. Donna October 21, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Papilio – This goes back to the old adage of when you hear hoof beats, don’t look for zebras (or something like that). The fact is that while kidnapping is rare, it is damn near completely unheard of for a stranger to accidentally kill a child (or adult) and then take the body with them to dispose of. It is a movie plot, not real life. Yes, it could happen but zebra could also escape from a visiting circus and run down my street. That doesn’t mean that I should consider a zebra as a reasonable possibility when I hear hoof beats.

  45. Papilio October 21, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    I guess I just don’t like the idea of Supervillain preparing for this for years, who then happened to be in town that day and choose Maddie (who happened to be left alone at a convenient time of day) as his first and last (or were there more (comparable) kidnappings in the past 6 years?) victim.
    It has hoofs, but I’m not sure if that’s a horse either.

    I feel also a bit concerned with the idea that maybe we humans want this to be a clear crime with a clear guilty person to blame – see a purpose in everything – rather than it being the sad result of coincidence and bad luck.
    So I play the deer’s/cow’s/donkey’s/mule’s/pig’s/zebra’s advocate a bit.

  46. BL October 21, 2013 at 10:22 am #

    @Papillo

    Well, it does seem likely that this was a crime. Why not hope to catch the perp or perps?

    I suppose it’s possible that the girl wandered off by herself and fell in a river or something, but that doesn’t seem likely.

  47. Dave October 21, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    We need to continually make the point that the media is looking for shock value, that these incidents are rare, that our children are safe, and that stuff happens that are outside of our control. Life is risky, but to not take risks is to not live. Thanks Linore for what you do.

  48. Kate October 21, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    I love your blog and I agree with the premise that this, along with other stories, gets blown up into craziness so that many parents feel that they have to have an Eye on their Child all the time. But I do agree with Rick – I cannot help but wonder what the parents were thinking. Again, not because I Think that abduction is a huge risk! Leaving Children so Young alone in a vacation apartment seems like not such a Bright idea. But it seems more like a question for Children’s Services than the national media. My kids are older now (15 and 17), but there are still pressures. My ex would love to lock our daughter away without a computer, etc., so that she would never get hurt, attacked, tricked by a pedophile, you name it. I would be devastated if anything happened to her, but I would rather she live a full Life with the minimal risks that truly exist than hate us forever for denying her every normal experience she should have. Sorry for my rambling!

  49. Donna October 21, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    “I guess I just don’t like the idea of Supervillain preparing for this for years”

    He/she likely isn’t a “supervillian.” Just a pedophile who stole a child, just like the thousand or so others who have done it over time. This may be a rare crime but it still does happen 120 or so times a year in the US alone. It is generally done well and very often goes unsolved.

    Nor was he likely “preparing” for this for years. Masturbating to the fantasy of doing this? Enjoying kidnapping stories online? Watching kiddie porn? Pretending in role playing websites? Molesting friends and family members? Most likely some or all of them. You don’t just wake up one morning with an urge to kidnap a child. However, he may very well have never thought that he would really do it until an opportunity presented itself.

    “who then happened to be in town that day”

    Why assume that it wasn’t a local? It most likely was someone who lived/worked near or in the hotel.

    “and choose Maddie (who happened to be left alone at a convenient time of day) as his first and last?

    Again, stranger kidnapping is a crime that happens on average 120 times a year in the US alone. In this exact same way. It is RARE, not unheard of. Not sure why you so question how it could possibly occur when we could all name times when it has been proved to have occurred exactly as described. Adam Walsh, Danielle Van Damm, the little boy in NYC a couple years back, Elizabeth Smart, Polly Klauss, Jaycee Duggar, the 3 women just found. All cases that have been solved (Adam Walsh never completely but close enough). We know exactly what happened and it was really just a chance meeting between a killer and a kid on the street or a killer in the neighborhood who snuck into a house to get a specific child, leaving others behind.

    It is likely that Maddie didn’t just happen to be alone when he came in. It is more likely that he was around and seized a moment when Maddie was alone.

    Whether it was his first or last, we won’t know until he is caught, if he ever is. Should we ever know the answer to this question, I highly doubt that we will find that Maddie was his first or last crime involving a child. Maybe his only kidnapping for any number of reasons, but not his only child crime.

    “I feel also a bit concerned with the idea that maybe we humans want this to be a clear crime with a clear guilty person to blame – see a purpose in everything – rather than it being the sad result of coincidence and bad luck.”

    (A) I can’t imagine that anyone sees any purpose in a 4 year old child dying in anyway, let alone a violent death whether by accident or intention.

    (B) A better theory to you is that a person struck the child in the road, stole the body, buried or otherwise hid it and refused to say anything for years despite the anguished pleas of the parents who would find some peace in knowing where their child is and being able to give her a proper burial? That somehow involves a “sad result of coincidence and bad luck” more than a chance kidnapping? That doesn’t involve a clear crime? Or a clear guilty person? How majorly lacking in any humanity whatsoever do you have to be to do something like that? That may actually be more depraved than kidnapping the child.

    (C) The fact still remains that one thing (the stealing the body you just accidentally killed) never happens and the other (kidnapping) does. I suppose that this could be the sole case in recent history of this happening, but I am not sure why it is easier to believe that than this child fell victim of one of the rare kidnappings that happen every year.

  50. John Patterson October 21, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    They were in a villa in a vacation estate, not a hotel. The parents went to dinner in a restaurant for over an hour. It seems the door to the villa was not locked. There were baby sitters available, but McCanns did hire one. Who does that?

  51. erin October 21, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    One of my son’s favorite books right now is “Babar Loses His Crown”–one of the most interesting parts of the book, for me, is how the parents put the kids to bed in the hotel, then leave and go to the Opera. Of course, there are five of them. And the older ones are, um, like 10 maybe? (hard to judge the age of a cartoon elephant.) Anyway, I like that part of the book because it makes me think there was once a time where that was completely the normal thing to do–to put your kids to bed and then leave for a 3-hr-long stage performance.

    I don’t know how I feel about leaving one three-year-old alone in a hotel, though. Just being honest. I still think this story is a freak occurrence and not good for basing behavior on–had her parents taken her along and she was hit by taxi and killed (also a freak occurrence) would we be berating them that she wasn’t at the hotel, in bed? I don’t think they did anything wrong–there is no way you can foresee that kind of tragedy. But, even before hearing about this story, I’m not sure I could leave my three-year-old alone, sleeping, anywhere. Personally. I may leave him with a ten-year-old elephant, though.That makes me feel a little better…

  52. Donna October 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    “had her parents taken her along and she was hit by taxi and killed (also a freak occurrence) would we be berating them that she wasn’t at the hotel, in bed?”

    Many totally would have. People berated the parents who took their children to the Dark Knight movie in Aurora. Apparently many believe that the only proper way to be a parent is to do exactly what they do. Everyone else deserves to have their children killed in freak occurrences.

  53. Donna October 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    “There were baby sitters available,”

    Okay, while I don’t think either are remotely common or something to stress out about, there is a whole helluva lot more of a chance that your child will be harmed by a hotel babysitter than kidnapped by a stranger from the hotel room. The fact that the later appears to have occurred here doesn’t negate the fact that statistically you should be far more worried about the former.

  54. Shelly October 21, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    I agree this story has way too much media attention but to be completely honest leaving a 3 (almost 4) yr old alone in a room with twin babies is neglectful. If they had an older sibling it would be more understandable, but to leave the 3 of them alone is irresponsible and bad parenting, period.

    Does anyone commenting on this story honestly feel in their heart of hearts that leaving a child under 4 alone with 2 babies in a hotel room while you dine in a separate building a wise idea? Or even normal?

  55. Anne-Marie Cox October 21, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    I cannot begin to imagine the horror of losing your child this way… I just wish the media would get this wound up about childhood cancer and histiocytosis… maybe if we were more shocked we might find a cure. :(

  56. sarah October 21, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    A mystery blonde girl has been found living in squalor in a Gypsy camp in central Greece, just days after a new appeal into the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann drew attention to international child-trafficking rings in Europe.
    Police are trying to establish why the four-year-old girl was living with the couple, who are also accused of falsifying identity and family certificates. Officials fear she may have been a victim of abduction or child trafficking.
    The child was found on Wednesday near Farsala in central Greece during a nationwide crackdown on illegal activities by Roma, also known as Gypsies.
    The Greek police had raided the camp in search of drugs and weapons but during the operation an accompanying prosecutor noticed the blonde, blue-eyed girl.
    Going by the name Maria, the girl looked nothing like the couple she lived with and DNA tests proved she was not their child.
    Further investigation raised even more suspicions: authorities allege the mother claimed to have given birth to six children in fewer than 10 months, while 10 of the 14 children the couple registered as their own were unaccounted for
    She was reportedly being used to beg on the streets of Larissa because she was blonde and cute.
    The couple, a 39-year-old man and a 40-year-old woman, were arrested and charged with abducting a minor.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/did-gypsy-gang-take-maria-20131019-2vtjz.html#ixzz2iOavGLRK

  57. Donna October 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    @ Sarah – Nobody has any idea where this child came from or how she came to live with the Roma. Clearly it is not their child, but that doesn’t mean that they came by her wrongly. Jumping to abduction in this case seems premature, and possibly racist based on the Greek view of the Roma.

    Further, Maddie being abducted by a child trafficking ring is a remote possibility. It is far more likely that she was abducted by a garden variety pedophile.

  58. Papilio October 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    @Donna: Maybe it was a pedophile and it all went exactly as you’ve thought out. And maybe something else happened, something we can imagine less well.

    I’m gonna leave it at that.

  59. one mom October 22, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    “the fact remains that it is not the kind of “endangering” a child that allows any of the blame to be placed on the parents ”

    No. This is not a fact. THE FACT is that when you put a 3 y/o to bed in ANY UNlocked room (including their own bedroom), you can expect them to leave the room. This is a fact.