Disappearance of Etan Patz
|Born||Etan Kalil Patz
October 9, 1972
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Disappeared||May 25, 1979 (aged 6)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Status||Declared dead in absentia
|Died||Declared legally dead, 2001
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
|Known for||Missing child|
|Home town||Manhattan, New York, U.S.|
Etan Kalil Patz (/ /; born October 9, 1972; declared legally dead in 2001) was an American child who was six years old when he disappeared in the SoHo neighborhood of lower Manhattan, New York City, on May 25, 1979. He is the best known missing child from New York City. His disappearance helped spark the missing children's movement, including new legislation and various methods for tracking down missing children, such as the milk-carton campaigns of the mid-1980s. Etan was the first ever missing child to be pictured on the side of a milk carton.
The case into Patz's disappearance was reopened in 2010 by the New York County District Attorney's office. In April 2012, the FBI excavated a basement near the Patz residence, which revealed no new evidence. A self-confessed suspect, Pedro Hernandez, was charged and indicted later that year on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. In 2014, the case went through a series of hearings to determine if Hernandez’s statements before receiving the Miranda warning are legally admissible at trial. The trial began in January 2015.
On the morning of Friday, May 25, 1979, six-year-old Etan Patz left his SoHo apartment by himself for the first time. He was to walk two blocks to catch the school bus, and he wore a blue captain hat, a blue shirt, blue jeans, and blue sneakers that day. He never reached the bus stop. When he did not come home when school ended, his mother called the police.
An intense search began that evening, using nearly 100 police officers and a team of bloodhounds. The search continued for weeks. At first, detectives considered the Patzs as possible suspects, but they quickly determined the parents had no involvement. A massive search involving neighbors and police covered the city with missing child posters featuring Patz's face, but resulted in few leads. Patz's father, Stan Patz, a professional photographer, used a collection of photographs he had taken of his son in the effort to find the missing boy. His photos of Etan were printed on countless missing child posters and milk cartons, and they were projected on screens in Times Square.
Uncharged suspect, 1980s-90s
Assistant United States Attorney Stuart R. GraBois identified Jose Antonio Ramos, a convicted child sexual abuser who had been a friend of Etan Patz's one-time babysitter, as the primary suspect in his disappearance after receiving the case in 1985. Some boys had accused Ramos of trying to lure them inside a drainpipe, where he lived in 1982 in the Bronx. When police searched the drainpipe, they found photographs of Ramos and young boys who resembled Patz. GraBois eventually found out that Ramos was in custody in Pennsylvania in connection with an unrelated child molestation case. In 1990, GraBois became deputized as a deputy state attorney general in Pennsylvania to help prosecute a case against Ramos for sexually abusing other children to also obtain further information on Patz's case. When initially questioned by GraBois, Ramos stated that he took a young boy back to his apartment to rape him, on the day Patz disappeared, and that he was "90 percent sure" it was the boy he later saw on TV. Ramos did not use Patz's name, however, and claimed he had "put the boy on a subway." While Ramos was incarcerated, a fellow convict of his who became a jailhouse informant told GraBois and FBI agent Mary Galligan in 1991 that Ramos told him he knew what happened to Patz, and even drew a map of Patz's school bus route, indicating that he knew that Patz's bus stop was the third one on the route.
In a special feature on missing children, the New York Post reported on October 21, 1999, that Ramos was the prime suspect in Etan Patz's disappearance. Ramos was known to the Patz family and was the prime suspect all along, but in the early 1980s they still could not prosecute Ramos. Patz was declared legally dead in 2001. Ramos was declared responsible for Patz's death in 2004 in a New York civil case but remains unprosecuted. Ramos denied responsibility for Patz's death.
Etan Patz's parents, Stanley and Julie Patz, pursued a civil case against Ramos. They were awarded a 'symbolic' sum of $2 million, which they have never collected. Ramos served a 20-year prison term in the State Correctional Institution – Dallas in Pennsylvania for child molestation. Jose Ramos was released from prison on November 7, 2012, and then promptly arrested on a Megan's Law violation.
Every year, on the anniversaries of Etan's birthday and disappearance, Stan Patz has sent Ramos a copy of his son's missing child poster. On the back, he types the same message: "What did you do to my little boy?"
Case reopening, 2010–present
On April 19, 2012, FBI and NYPD investigators began excavating the SoHo basement of 127B Prince Street, near the Patz home, which case files revealed had been newly refurbished shortly after the boy's disappearance in 1979. The basement had been the workshop and storage space of a carpenter who had previous contact with Etan as well as many others in the neighborhood at the time. After a four-day search, investigators announced there was "nothing conclusive found", including any skeletal or human remains.
On May 24, 2012, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced that a man was in custody who had implicated himself in the Patz disappearance. According to The New York Times, a law enforcement official identified the man as Pedro Hernandez of Maple Shade, New Jersey, age 51, and said that he had confessed to strangling Etan Patz. CNN reported that Patz had a dollar and had told his parents he planned to buy a soda to drink with his lunch. Hernandez was an 18-year-old convenience store worker in a neighborhood bodega at the time of Patz's disappearance; Hernandez said he later threw Patz's remains into the garbage. Hernandez was charged with second-degree murder. According to a New York Times report from May 25, 2012, the police at that time had no physical evidence to corroborate Hernandez's confession.
Statements in May 2012 by Hernandez's sister, Nina Hernandez, and Tomas Rivera, leader of a Charismatic Christianity group at St. Anthony of Padua, a Roman Catholic church in Camden, indicated that Hernandez may have publicly confessed to murdering Patz in the presence of fellow parishioners in the early 1980s. According to Hernandez's sister, it was an "open family secret that he had confessed in the church." A New York grand jury indicted Hernandez on November 14, 2012, on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. His lawyer has stated that Hernandez was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder, which includes hallucinations. The lawyer has also said his client has a low IQ of around 70, “at the border of intellectual disability.” On December 12, 2012, Hernandez pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder and one count of kidnapping in a New York court.
In April 2013, Harvey Fishbein, a defense lawyer for Pedro Hernandez, filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing that Hernandez's "confession in one of the nation's most notorious child disappearances was false, peppered with questionable claims and made after almost seven hours of police questioning". The next month, however, Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Maxwell Wiley ruled that the evidence was "legally sufficient to support the charges" and the case could move forward; he also ordered a hearing to determine whether the defendant's statements could be used at trial.
Hernandez had a hearing in September 2014 about whether his statements made prior to police giving him his Miranda warnings – which he was read about seven hours into questioning – were legally admissible at trial, which would be influenced by whether he felt free to leave during the time before he was informed of his Miranda rights. The hearing was also to determine whether he comprehended the significance of the Miranda rights warnings and was competent to waive them when he did so, which was significant because it would decide whether any statements made after that point by Mr. Hernandez were legally admissible at trial. The actual truth or falsehood of the statements was not the focus of the hearing; rather, the question of the statements' truthfulness was to be discussed in the trial, which began on January 5, 2015.
Every year on May 25, members of the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN), a network launched in 1998 as a joint venture of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC) and the US's National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) of 22 countries that connect, share best practices, and disseminate information and images of missing children to improve the effectiveness of missing children investigations, pay respects to International Missing Children’s Day, honoring missing and abducted children while celebrating those who have been recovered.
In 2001, the tribute spread worldwide. ICMEC coordinates the Help Bring Them Home Campaign in 22 countries, in conjunction with International Missing Children’s Day, spotlighting the issue of child abduction around the world, and suggesting to parents some steps they can take to protect their children.
The extensive media attention to Patz's disappearance has been credited as the catalyst for greater attention to missing children, including a reduced willingness to allow children to walk to school, photos of missing children being printed on milk cartons, and promotion of the concept of "stranger danger" (the idea that all adults unknown to the child must be regarded as potential sources of danger).
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