Their son stood alone two blocks away. This was a daily routine. But one day, Stan and Julie Patz got a call from the school that forced them to search for him for 38 years. Could this knock on the door be a signal that their search was finally over, or did more false hope await them on the other side?
38 years ago, Stan and Julie Patz welcomed their son Etan into the world. At the time, the family lived in SoHo, Manhattan. Thanks to Stan’s professional photography job, they were able to buy a house that was two blocks away from Etan’s bus stop. The two of them walked Etan to school, and then waited for him there after school was over.
Etan was six, and like most kids he wanted to feel like a big boy. This included having his own big boy bed and eating with the big boy utensils, just like his dad. His parents did everything to make him feel like a grown up. This included allowing him to walk to the bus stop all on his own, but it wasn’t safe.
It was 1979, and sadly, parents didn’t have the luxury of cell phones to check up on their kids. You see, in those days, parents didn’t have the same concerns that people do now. So, kids were allowed to stay out after the sun had gone down in the summertime. So, letting Etan walk two blocks was not a big deal.
Etan had to convince his parents, and eventually, they agreed to let him be a big boy and walk to the bus stop on his own. After all, it was just two blocks away, and they wanted their son to be independent and brave. They had no idea that this would ultimately be the worst mistake of their lives.
Etan never arrived at school, so his teacher marked him absent. She figured that his parents had forgotten to call in to let the school know why. She had no reason to assume that something was seriously wrong. Then, the school bus returned, and Etan was not on it.
Authorities started looking for the boy. They initially suspected that the Patz family were involved in his disappearance, but that turned out to be false. So, 100 cops and their bloodhounds began to scour all of New York City. It wasn’t exactly an easy task given how big the city was. To make things worse, no one had any leads either.
Stan had high-quality photos of his son because he was a professional photographer. So, he used them to create missing posters. Then, cops helped put ads on milk cartons. Soon enough, it felt as though the entire community was out looking for Etan. But would this method of searching for missing kids pay off in the end?
Eventually, cops stopped searching. The milk cartons were replaced with the faces of other missing children. 38 years later, no one had any clues as to what happened to young Etan on his way to the bus stop. This made it impossible for the Patz family to get a good night’s sleep. Then, someone knocked on their door.
Police officers assumed they had looked everywhere, but their search failed. So, in 2001, Etan was legally declared deceased. In 2010, the case was reopened. An officer saw something authorities missed. Authorities began to focus on a newly-refurbished basement. But would this give the Patz the closure they so desperately needed?
The Patz had spent the last 38 years dealing with the trial of a man responsible for harming children. But despite his confession, there was no solid evidence to tie him to Etan’s disappearance. But that didn’t matter to Stan, who wrote the man angry letters on his son’s birthday, demanding to know the truth.
In 2012, authorities claimed they had the man responsible for Etan’s abduction. Pedro Hernandez from Maple Shade, New Jersey, confessed. So, it seemed like Etan had fallen prey to this horrible man even though there was no actual evidence that incriminated him.
Nina Hernandez was Pedro’s sister, and the leader of a Christianity group. She was the one who gave cops the evidence that had her brother arrested. He claimed that he confessed his crime to a couple parishioners because he felt guilty for what he did to Etan. But Pedro’s low IQ made people initially doubt his words.
It took 38 years, and two trials, but on February 14, 2017, Hernandez was found guilty. Julie and Stan Patz had finally gotten their closure. Unfortunately, the guilty verdict wouldn’t bring their son back, but at least they could finally make peace with what happened to Etan all those years ago.
Etan’s disappearance made parents around the world treat their kids differently. These days, people are a lot more careful about leaving their kids all alone. And thanks to technology, they can check in on them regularly. But if this story teaches anything, it’s to always keep an eye on your children.