Breakthroughs in Missing Children Cases?

Cynthia Dermody

etan patz
Etan Patz around the time of his abduction

New developments this week in two famous missing children cases -- Etan Patz and Madeleine McCann -- giving the parents of both children new hope. Though we are told cases like this are rare, reliving the details again makes me want to never let my children out of my sight for a minute, even though I know that's impossible and wrong.

Etan Patz was 6 years old on March 25, 1979, when he got dressed for school and bounded out the door to walk two blocks to his school bus stop in lower Manhattan. It was the first time that his mother was allowing him to make the walk all by himself.

My own son, 7, is constantly asking me to let him do this. *Shudder*

Patz never made it to school. Never made it on the bus. When he failed to come home later in the day, his parents alerted police and a massive search ensued, lasting for weeks. Patz's disappearance generated a media circus in New York and is credited with launching the missing children movement. His was the first picture to appear on the milk carton campaign.

The main suspect was and still is Jose Antonio Ramos, a friend of Patz's one-time babysitter. Ramos, a convicted child molester, admitted to the boy's murder while serving time for an unrelated case of abusing boys in a correctional facility. But without a body or direct link, the district attorney said he could not officially charge him for the crime.

Patz's parents, Stanley and Julie, launched a civil case against Ramos for wrongful death and won $2 million, which they never collected because Ramos is still serving time. He's due to get out of jail in two years.

Just two days ago, the new Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance agreed to reopen the case, making good on a campaign promise to try to bring suspect Jose Antonio Ramos to justice.

madeleine mccann
Madeleine McCann

And across the ocean in England, Gerry and Kate McCann got news this week that a new witness has come forward in the case of their daughter Madeleine, a case that captured worldwide attention. Gerry and Kate left their daughter, on the verge of her 4th birthday, asleep alone in a rental apartment at a Portugal resort, along with their younger twins, while they ate dinner in a nearby restaurant with friends. They went back to check on the kids every half hour, but during one check, they discovered Maddie was gone.

Several people reported sightings around the resort and throughout Europe, where private investigators continue to scour three years later for possible connections to child sex trade groups, but there were never any concrete leads or even a major suspect in the case.

Just the other day, Carlos Moreira, 65, told detectives that on the morning of May 4, 2007, he saw a blond girl sitting in the back of a truck, wearing pajamas similar to those worn by Madeleine the night before.

Moreira waited three years to tell the McCann family's private investigation team because, he says, he thought police had mounted road blocks in the area. He told police that when the van door was opened, the little girl did not wake up, as if she was drugged. He described her as blond and about 4 years old.

This might not be enough for police to reopen the case, but the McCanns continue to cling to their private investigation. Meantime, they're trying to move on, if that's even possible.

"You just hope that ... she is now not at harm and she's getting love and happiness," Kate has said. "That's all I can hope for."

My son and Maddy are just days apart in age. She would be 7 right now. If she were here, she, too, might have been asking her mother if she could walk to the school bus stop alone.

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