Missing since Friday May 29th, 1979. Last seen 8am at Prince St. & West B'way.
Persons having information are requested to call...1
Etan Patz was, just prior to Memorial Day Weekend 1979, 6 years old living in New York City and just about to finish kindergarten. Decades later, he is the second most famous child disappearance in America (Charlie Lindbergh). What led up to his disappearance? What happened the day he disappeared? What went wrong?
Etan grew up with his parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, in the Soho neighborhood of New York City. The morning of his disappearance was unusually busy. Julie was taking care of her two year old son and another young child who had stayed the night, all while preparing to open her in-home daycare for the day, feed Etan, and wake his older sister up.2 When Etan, running out of opportunities in the school year, pressed to be allowed to walk to the bus stop by himself, Julie packed him a small bag, handed him a $1 bill for a soda near the bus stop, and walked him outside. The bus stop was two city blocks away, but Etan never made it onto the bus.3 At school Etan's absence was recorded by his teacher, but not reported to the school's principal.4 It wasn't until the end of the day, when Etan did not return home, that his parents learned he was not at school and promptly called the police. By that time the trail had gone dark, short term memory had cleared from potential sidewalk commuters, and Etan Patz had disappeared without trace.
The road to closure was long for the Patz family. They endured four decades, two suspects, a mistrial, and a conviction.4 Ultimately, a 2017 jury convicted Pedro Hernandez of murder and kidnapping. He had been an 18 year old bodega employee along the route Etan would have walked to get to the bus stop.2 Hernandez had previously confessed to the crime in 2012. It would take three years of legal maneuvers for the confession to be ruled admissible. The defense in the 2015 trial achieved a mistrial by convincing a single juror on the panel of twelve that the lack of corroborating physical evidence, in combination with his clients mental state at the time of the confession, was sufficient reasonable doubt to keep Hernandez free.2, 4 The state motioned for retrial which began in October 2016 and concluded in February 2017 with a conviction.4
While it took 38 years for justice to soothe the Patz family, some solace could be found in the public reaction. Immediately after the disappearance Stanley Patz, a professional photographer, was able to arrange to have Etan's likeness and a plea for information to appear on the side of milk cartons. Etan was the first child disappearance to be advertised in such a way, and the campaign was replicated in the 1980s.3 On the four year anniversary of his disappearance, President Ronald Reagan designated May 25th to be National Missing Children's Day.2, 3, 4 The police reaction to Etan's case would later form the argument for the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), who continue to serve youths in today's age of physical and virtual exploitation.
NCMEC is a non—profit 501(c)(3) corporation whose mission is to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization.5 To learn more, or to donate time or money in support of NCMEC visit their website.