New York Daily News
Their son was alone for only two blocks. When Stan and Julie Patz received the call from the school though, two blocks was all it took to take them on a frantic, 38-year search to find him. Was a knock on the door the answer to their long-awaited questions, or did it only raise hundreds more?
38 years ago, Stan and Julie Patz had a son named Etan. The tight-knit family lived in SoHo, Manhattan at the time. Stan’s professional photography job bought them a place just two blocks from young Etan’s bus stop. The three of them would walk together, and when school ended they thought they'd be greeting him again.
Etan was six years old, and anyone who’s had or known a boy at that age can think of only one thing: being a “big boy”. The coveted title ranged from getting a big boy bed to eating with the big boy utensils, to anything perceived as “grown-up”. This includes walking to the bus alone, no matter how unsafe.
Back in 1979, the fears and worries that plague parents now didn’t for those in the past. Parents couldn’t frequently check in on their kids via cell phone, and kids often stayed out past dark in the summertime. So the prospect of young Etan walking two blocks on his own was not so far-fetched, until then.
Though it took a little convincing, Stan and Julie decided it would be alright for Etan to walk to the bus stop like a big boy. It was only two blocks, and they wanted to instill in him a sense of independence and courage. They never could’ve imagined the path this choice led to.
When Etan didn’t arrive at school that day, his teacher marked him as absent, believing that his parents had forgotten to call in some illness, tragedy, or event. No one noticed there was anything wrong until that afternoon when the bus came back empty of one six-year-old big boy.
The police began the search as soon as they heard. Though at first, they suspected the Patz family that was quickly dismissed. With no suspects and a school day wasted, 100 police officers and their bloodhounds explored the streets of New York City. It seemed impossible, however. No one had any ideas where he could be.
They turned to the community for help. Due to Stan’s professional photography, he had high-quality photographs of his son. Put on posters and then - with the police officers’ help - milk cartons, it felt like the whole country was searching for Etan. Would this new way of searching for missing children do any good?
38 years passed. The milk cartons made room for other children, the police stopped searching, and no one knew what happened to young Etan on the two blocks from his home to his school. Without closure, Stan and Julie Patz found it hard to find peace. Then they had a knock at the door.
When officers scoured the city, they thought they’d searched everywhere. The search seemed so hopeless that Etan had been declared legally dead in 2001. But someone in the force noticed something they’d overlooked, and in 2010 they reopened the case to investigate a newly-refurbished basement. Would the Patz receive closure now after so long?
New York Daily News
Julie and Stan Patz didn’t want to get their hopes up at first. Those 38 years were filled with the trial of a man who had hurt children before and his confession, but there was no evidence he’d done it. Stan still sent him angry letters on Etan’s birthday, begging for answers that now seemed close.
image by newyork.cbslocal.com
In 2012, the captain announced they had a man in custody. Pedro Hernandez from Maple Shade, New Jersey, had confessed to making the boy disappear. Etan had just been at the wrong place at the wrong time. There was still no incriminating evidence, however.
It was Pedro’s sister, Nina Hernandez, and the local leader of a Christianity group that provided the evidence the police needed to bring Pedro into court. Soon after what he’d done to Etan, Pedro had felt guilty and confessed to several parishioners, but nothing ever came out of it due to Pedro’s low IQ.
Though it took two trials, Hernandez was finally found guilty on February 14, 2017. This was just what Julie and Stan Patz needed to find closure. And though the guilty verdict would never bring back their son, it did allow them to make steps towards making their peace with the ordeal.
New York Times
The disappearance of Etan gave a new precedent for how parents interact with the world. Now they’re a lot more cautious when their children are alone, and check in to make sure they’re okay. And though no one wants to end up on the side of a milk carton, we know now every eye counts.