Sunday, May 13, 2007

Finding Madeleine McCann

From personal experience I can tell you that there is nothing more nightmarish than having a child go missing. I’ve been watching the frantic efforts to find little Madeleine McCann from the UK. She was apparently kidnapped from her hotel bed 10 days ago while on vacation in Portugal with her family. The case of this “missing” little girl has dredged up my own memories of what turned out to be a weekend from hell.

It was a Friday night about 10 years ago. My wife’s ex-husband called looking for their 10-year old daughter. He had waited outside the roller rink where he had dropped her off three hours earlier and she never came out. They called the police and the search began. They went through the rink’s video surveillance tapes and spotted her leaving, but that was the extent of what they found out.

Midnight came and went and still there was no word. We did not sleep. Every cop in town was alerted and while they searched we drove everywhere looking for some sign of her. We couldn’t eat; we couldn’t even sit and watch TV. The only thing on our collective mind was “Where is she?”

Saturday passed ever so slowly into Saturday night. Dread made our bodies weak while terror paralyzed us. Our imagination and emotions became our enemy. In spite of ourselves, we imagined the most horrible scenarios, and try as we might to shoo them away, visions came to us that turned our insides to jelly. The police called and said that maybe there had been a sighting of her in a convenience store with a young black man. The video showed a girl that resembled her, but we could not be sure. The nightmare continued.

We lay down to continue our vigil with the TV on, but we didn’t know what we were watching, it might as well have been off. In spite of ourselves we passed out into troubled sleep. I continually awoke to my wife’s moans and sobbing. I tried to comfort her, but at least she was sleeping, so I decided to let her sleep while she cried. There was nothing I could do except to pray and try to will her back to us.

Sunday morning found us more tired and even sicker with worry. Our hands shook from nervousness and lack of food. My wife tried to eat but could not keep it down. Her eyes were red and our faces pinched with anxiety. We waited for the phone to ring and when it did we rushed to answer it, frightened of what we might hear and yet hoping for good news. Our lives went on hold.

Sunday evening and the phone rang. It was my wife’s ex. She had called! She was okay! She was there with him! My wife screamed and collapsed in on herself. It was exactly like the popping of an overfilled balloon. She spoke to her daughter, half crying and half screaming. I sat and watched from across the room just feeling the most exquisite sense of relief. I let my body and mind give way to exhaustion while tears filled my eyes and wet my cheeks. I was just happy she was okay.

In the little girl’s half-baked ten-year old mind she saw no problem with simply going to her “new” friend’s house. Her father said that he had met the family and that they were “nice people,” a black family, and he was satisfied that nothing untoward had happened. It was none of my business, but if it had been my call I would have requested a full medical exam, especially by a rape specialist. And, I would have charged the “nice family” with kidnapping. I couldn’t believe they hadn’t asked their son’s new little friend if maybe her family was wondering where she was. I could have killed them.

Before hanging up the phone that night with the tired little chastened girl I got my chance to speak to her--I begged her never to do such a thing again. I could tell she was deeply impressed by the level of emotion she heard in our voices. To her, she was only gone for a few hours—no big deal.

I can't imagine how terrible it must feel for the McCann family after 10 days of the kind of agony we experienced over that interminable weekend. My heart goes out to them and I hope and pray that they get their baby back.

See also Still Looking For Madeleine McCann


Unknown said...

Hi Phil, as a father of three I am touched and moved by your experience. Thank goodness your story had a happy ending. I too cannot believe the complacency and attitude of some parents who do not think to check out who the 'new friend' is. I echo your comments re Madeleine, god be with her.
Richard, Sheffield, UK

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hello seems a lot of folks are very worried and concerned for little "Maddy." My sitemeter is clicking over every few minutes as people read my post while searching for news on the little angel. I've been having trouble sleeping thinking about her and her family. I hope she is soon back in her family's arms.