When I heard the news that Etan Patz’s killer had confessed to the police, my heart sank. One would imagine there might be relief that this 33-year-old case, which changed laws and altered the way many of us would come to mother our children, could finally be considered solved. And yet.
Yet my heart plummeted at the thought that the tiniest shred of hope that somehow, somewhere, Etan remained alive, is now extinguished.
Etan’s parents, sister and brother have suffered unimaginable sorrow. I can’t fathom what this development does to a mother the day before the anniversary of her cherished 6-year-old’s disappearance. Just a month ago she and the rest of her family had to suffer through another media siege when the basement of a building near their Soho home was excavated. Police thought that Etan’s remains might have been interred there by his murderer.
While the current suspect, Pedro Hernandez, has reportedly admitted to having committed this profoundly abhorrent crime, the case is not over.
We are now just a few days from Shavuot, as we were the day 6-year-old Etan disappeared from the street in lower Manhattan as he walked to the school bus for the very first time. Shavuot commemorates the day the Jewish people were given the Torah by God, and marks a turning point in the Exodus narrative that begins with Passover.
This year, in particular, Etan and his family will be in my Shavuot prayers. I will pray that Hernandez’s confession proves to be a turning point and that God grants them the redemption of a conclusion, whatever form it can possibly take when it is your sweet child who is snatched from the sidewalk on a fine spring day, and never again comes home.
A renewed search for Etan Patz’s remains has concluded. Nothing was found.
The 6-year-old boy allowed to walk to his school bus in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood on a May morning in 1979 never made it. Instead, he was kidnapped, and his parents had ripped from them the chance to tuck him into bed each night and raise him to be a good boy, kind and sweet and loving.
Etan’s murder led to many things: National Missing Children’s Day, each May 25, the anniversary of his disappearance. It began a national conversation about how independent we can afford to let our children be — and that conversation continues to this day and again moved the fore, following the abduction and murder, last year, of little Leiby Kletzky, in Boro Park.
The details of the murder last week of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky are heart-rending. It was an act of evil that recalls the first time in modern memory that a stranger abducted a child off the streets of New York City. That child was also a young Jewish boy, Etan Patz, who had, like Leiby, begged his parents to allow him to walk alone, in that 1979 case to the school bus stop. This week, Leiby was trying to walk home from day camp.
There has been a plethora of coverage of Leiby Kletzky’s murder, including this New York Times piece about the ultra-Orthodox community’s tendency to view Jews as “safe,” and non-Jews (or those who appear not to be Jewish) as dangerous.
As Etan’s father, Stanley Patz, told Clyde Haberman this week, “children are vulnerable.” Most children Leiby’s age, especially in the ultra-Orthodox community, don’t understand the danger that strangers — even Jewish ones — can present. One of the nice things about children in Haredi communities is that, protected from television news and reality garbage (since most Haredi families do not have televisions), they have the sweetness of childhood on them for as long as possible.
There is also that “double standard” that Joseph Berger writes about in The Times.