More Than 15 Years After Madeleine McCann's Disappearance, Questions Remain Unanswered: 5 Things to Know

On May 3, 2007, 3-year-old Madeleine McCann vanished from her bed at her family's vacation apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal

Parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann
Kate and Gerry McCann, parents of Madeleine McCann. Photo: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty

More than a decade and a half has passed since the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and uncertainty still swirls around the missing toddler's whereabouts.

Marking the 15th anniversary of her disappearance last May 3, Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, acknowledged on their website dedicated to finding Madeleine that it's "been a very long time."

"Regardless of outcome, Madeleine will always be our daughter and a truly horrific crime has been committed," the pair wrote. "It is true though that uncertainty creates weakness; knowledge and certainty give strength, and for this reason our need for answers, for the truth, is essential."

Here are five things you need to know about the case.

1. Madeleine McCann Vanished on a Family Trip to Portugal

On May 3, 2007, Madeleine — who was 3 years old at the time — vanished from her bed at her family's vacation apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal. The McCanns were visiting from the United Kingdom, where they lived.

The little girl, who was just days shy of celebrating her 4th birthday, had been left with her 2-year-old twin siblings in the unlocked rental while Kate and Gerry dined with friends at a restaurant 130 feet away.

The parents took turns checking on their children periodically, but later that night, Kate noticed an open window and Madeleine missing from her bed.

Madeleine McCann.

2. Her Parents Were Initially Named as Suspects

In September 2007, the McCanns themselves were named suspects by Portuguese police.

The focus on the parents came after forensic tests revealed traces of Madeleine's blood in a car they rented 25 days after Madeleine's disappearance.

Family spokesperson Justine McGuinness said they feared Kate might be arrested.

"They believe they have evidence to show that in some way she's involved in the death of her daughter, which of course is completely ludicrous," McGuinness told reporters in 2007. "Kate is a lovely mother to her children. She'd never hurt them."

The couple underwent questioning by authorities but continued to profess their innocence throughout the investigation.

In 2008, they were cleared as suspects. "Whoever took Madeleine," Gerry said at the time, "is still at large."

Kate and Gerry McCann.

3. German Authorities Named a Suspect in 2020, but Never Charged Him

In mid-2020, German authorities identified Christian Brueckner, a man in his 40s, as a suspect in the case. Ultimately, a lack of evidence prevented them from pushing to convict Brueckner, despite prosecutors' belief that he killed the young girl.

Brueckner received a seven-year sentence in December 2019 for raping a 72-year-old American woman in 2005 in Portugal, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE. He was in the process of appealing that sentence when he was linked to Madeleine's case, but at the time was serving a 21-month sentence in Germany for dealing drugs, the Times of London reported.

He still has not been charged in connection with Madeleine's disappearance.

In an interview with CNN, prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters of the Braunschweig Public Prosecutor's Office, who was leading the investigation into the suspect, said authorities "actually have findings that suggest that he is Madeleine McCann's murderer."

But Wolters added, "At the moment, there is insufficient evidence to convict."

4. German and Portuguese Authorities Announced in 2022 They Have an Official Suspect

In April 2022, Portuguese prosecutors said there was an official suspect in the case in a statement, according to Reuters.

Authorities did not reveal the name of the alleged individual, but said that he was identified as a suspect after they acted on a request made by German and British police, the Associated Press reported. It remains unclear if the person they are currently looking into is Christian Brueckner or someone new.

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In an update on their website, Kate and Gerry said they "welcome the news" that a suspect had been named.

"Even though the possibility may be slim, we have not given up hope that Madeleine is still alive and we will be reunited with her," they wrote.

Kate and Gerry McCann. Joe Giddens/PA Images

5. Madeleine McCann's Parents Still Buy Her Birthday Presents

Despite time passed, Madeleine's parents said they still hold out hope they will be reunited with their daughter.

Madeleine is "always still part of our life," Gerry said in 2017, ahead of her 14th birthday.

"I think every kind of event that we do, whether it be a birthday or a family occasion or even an achievement or something, that is kind of when you really feel her absence," said Kate, adding that she still buys birthday and Christmas presents for her daughter.

"So, we are marking the anniversary," said Gerry. "I think it's been good for the general public to hear police say there's no evidence that she's dead, and that there is still an active investigation, and there is still hope. So certainly from my point of view, somebody knows what's happened."

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