In 1979, when I was only six, a six year old boy in New York City disappeared on his way to school. The story of his disappearance left such an impression on me that I have never forgotten his story. The lasting impression it left may have been because I was also six at the time, or maybe it was because NYC was close to where I lived, or maybe it was because my father was a New York City Police Officer and I can recall him discussing the case with my mother, or maybe the media attention that was given to the efforts to find him. Or maybe it was just because I couldn’t imagine that something like that could happen. Whatever the reason this story about a little boy who went off to school one May morning and never came home again, left an indelible impression on me. I know that I am not alone and many people were taken with this story and have followed the efforts to solve the mystery of “What happened to Etan Patz?” for the last 33 years.
I certainly feel that this was a turning point for parenting. Moms and dads began to keep a closer eye on their children. Children were no longer allowed to walk alone places or play outside without supervision in the same way they had. Sometimes you hear people complain how children never walk anywhere or how they are not allowed to play outside or ride bikes around town like kids used to. I can’t comprehend this thinking. I can’t ever erase the image of Etan Patz. And maybe that makes me paranoid, but unfortunately there are bad people out there and I would rather err on the side of caution and know my kids are safe.
When Etan Patz disappeared in 1979 there was no Center for Missing and Exploited Children as there is today. There was no organization to turn to for help or even a procedure for locating missing children, outside of local law enforcement. Etan’s father, a photographer, created posters for his missing son and distributed them nationally in hopes to locate him. Nothing like that had ever been done before and it became a catalyst for creating and distributing posters of missing children.
Sadly, two years later another story emerged, this time from Florida. Adam Walsh disappeared from Sears while shopping with his mother. This story left me with a shiver up my spine and had a similar impact as the Etan Patz story. There was a Sears by my house, and I often went and shopped there with my mother. It was scary to me that kids could disappear like that, it is still scary to me today.
Adam Walsh’s disappearance gained lots of media attention. His parents were very vocal and hit the press in hopes of finding their son. In John Walsh’s autobiography Tears of Rage, he retells how the tragedy of his son’s abduction lead him to become an advocate for victims. He and his wife, Reve are credited with sparking the movement that led to the creation of the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. John has dedicated his life to the cause and is still catching criminals on the television show America’s Most Wanted. As an adult, still drawn to the story, I read Tears of Rage. I loved it. I found it to be a compelling biography with a positive and hopeful spin, definitely a good read.
Tragically the Walsh family discovered Adam was murdered not long after he was abducted. The Walsh family was able to mourn their son’s death. Not so for the Patz family who after 33 years still do not possess any answers to the mystery of what happened to their son.
With renewed interest in the case over the past week I was hopeful the police would be able to finally find some answers, but it looks as though that is not to be. After digging up a basement in Soho blocks away from Etan’s apartment the search has yielded little or no clues as to what happened to Etan.
As I child his story struck such a chord with me and certainly as an adult with children of my own it’s one I can’t forget. I hope and prayer for his family that they one day have closure and the mystery of the disappearance of their son is solved.