Hoping for a Break

updated 08/27/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/27/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

On the 100th day, they did what they've done each and every day: They prayed. Gerry and Kate McCann dressed up their 2-year-old twins, Sean and Amelie, and went to mass at the Nossa Senhora da Luz church in Praia da Luz, the Portuguese resort town where they've been staying ever since their bubbly daughter Madeleine, 4, vanished from their vacation apartment while they dined with friends nearby on May 3. "Every day feels so hard without Madeleine," a shaking Kate McCann—clutching her daughter's favorite toy, her stuffed pink Cuddle Cat—said during the special prayer service Aug. 11. "We all miss her so much."

The faith of the McCanns, a devoutly Catholic family from Leicestershire, England, has been tested in the past 100 days, as the investigation into their daughter's disappearance has seemed to lead nowhere. But now, a possible break: British investigators, permitted by Portuguese authorities to re-examine the crime scene, used ultraviolet equipment to discover minute specks of blood on the wall of Madeleine's ground-floor bedroom at the Ocean Club resort. At press time the blood was still being analyzed, but the new evidence prompted Portuguese investigators to admit, for the first time, that Madeleine might be dead.

That news came on the heels of another jarring twist: unsubstantiated press reports that implied the McCanns might have had something to do with their daughter's disappearance. The McCanns, both 38-year-old physicians, had already been criticized for leaving Madeleine and their twins alone while they ate with friends at a tapas restaurant not far from their apartment. But then on Aug. 8, the Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias, a respected daily, ran a story claiming police had intercepted e-mails and phone calls between the McCanns and their friends that suggested Madeleine had not been kidnapped but rather had died in the apartment. Another story speculated the McCanns may have moved Madeleine's body in a rental car sometime in June (the couple's spokesman says police have already searched that car). "I know we are absolutely innocent," Gerry McCann said in an Aug. 10 interview. "I would ask people to continue to believe in us." Neither British nor Portuguese police have commented on the specific allegations in the press, though Portuguese Chief Inspector Olegario Sousa did announce on Aug. 11 that "the McCanns are not suspects in the case ... they are victims."

Still, there are questions about why the McCanns didn't hire a babysitter, rather than leave their young children unattended. "Every hour now I still question, 'Why did I think that was safe?'" Kate told reporters. "You don't expect a predator to break in and take your daughter out of bed."

And what about the only formal suspect in the case: British expatriate Robert Murat, who lived near the Ocean Club and helped translate for Portuguese police in the early days of the investigation—and who reportedly was spotted near the McCanns' apartment on May 3? (Police dug up Murat's garden on Aug. 4 but have said they don't have enough evidence to arrest him; Murat insists he is innocent.) Also, did Portuguese police hopelessly botch the investigation by not promptly alerting border officials, allowing the apartment to be rented out again and failing to properly question witnesses? And what does the discovery of blood traces in the apartment prove, if anything? "It could show the victim was violently assaulted," says British forensics expert Richard Leary, "but the blood could also have been there from the time the building was built."

For now, the McCanns will keep doing what they've been doing: hoping, searching, praying. They've vowed not to move back to England until Madeleine is found and have rented an apartment in Praia da Luz, ignoring pressure from Portuguese media to leave. "We're not going to be bullied into going home," said Kate.

Occasionally the twins will ask them about their big sister. On one recent trip, "there was an empty seat on the plane, and Sean said, 'That's Madeleine's seat,'" Kate told reporters. "Amelie asked me afterwards, 'Where's Madeleine?'" In their darkest moments, the McCanns admit they can barely stand not knowing the answer to that question. "This is the worst kind of limbo," Kate told the British weekly magazine Woman's Own. "In our heart of hearts, we'd both rather know—even if knowing means we have to face the terrible truth that Madeleine might be dead."

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