BERLIN — Madeleine McCann, the British girl who disappeared in Portugal in 2007 aged just three, is dead, Germany's prosecutor said on Thursday after identifying an imprisoned German child abuser as a murder suspect.
McCann vanished from her bedroom on May 3 during a family vacation in the Algarve while her parents were dining with friends nearby in the resort of Praia da Luz.
Her disappearance sparked an international search, with missing posters of the little girl's face papered across the world and celebrity appeals for information that could help track her down and bring her abductors to justice.
"We assume that the girl is dead," Braunschweig state prosecutor Hans Christian Wolters said. "The public prosecutor's office in Braunschweig is investigating a 43-year-old German national on suspicion of murder."
The German man, who was not publicly named, lived in the Algarve between 1995 and 2007 and burgled hotels and holiday apartments as well as dealing drugs, German police said. He is currently in detention over a different matter.
British and German police appealed for information about the man and released photographs of vehicles — a Volkswagen camper van and a Jaguar — which he used at the time.
German police said earlier that the suspect, who lived near Praia da Luz, has been sentenced on numerous occasions to prison terms for sexual abuse of children in the past.
They said they were treating the case as a suspected murder and had determined the method used to kill McCann. No body has ever been found.
"All we have ever wanted is to find her, uncover the truth and bring those responsible to justice," her parents, Kate and Gerry, said in a statement issued before the German prosecutor spoke.
"We will never give up hope of finding Madeleine alive but whatever the outcome may be, we need to know as we need to find peace."
Police said they wanted to speak to a thus-far unidentified second person who spoke with the German suspect from a Portuguese phone number on May 3, 2007 at the time of McCann's disappearance.