Today is National Missing Child's Day. It's also the 33-year anniversary of the day Etan Patz went missing as he walked to school by himself for the first time. This May 25 dawns differently than in years past, because a suspect is now in custody for the disappearance and murder of Etan Patz, having confessed to the horrific crime that changed how we dealt with missing children in the United States. Pedro Hernandez is now in custody, awaiting arraignment this morning.
33 years is a long time. My heart immediately went to Etan's parents, Stanley and Julie, who never moved or changed their phone number in all of those many years. I can't imagine that coming up on the anniversary of the date of their son's disappearance is ever an easy thing. Anniversaries of loss are difficult in and of themselves. I wonder if they thought twice when the phone rang last night. To learn that a suspect was in police custody on the eve of the anniversary was surely a shock, even though they were surely aware that the case had been receiving a lot of new attention after the April excavation of a basement in Manhattan. To learn that it was someone they didn't even know as opposed to the man believed killed their son all those years ago must also have been shocking. Today, no doubt, is a hard day for these two parents. But maybe now they're on the road toward answers they've been waiting for since 1979.
Photo Credit: © Bryan Smith/ZUMAPRESS.com.
President Ronald Reagan declared May 25th National Missing Child's Day in 1983, four years after Etan went missing -- and prompted the massive changes in how the US dealt with missing children. It wasn't until after Etan and 6-year-old Adam Walsh from Florida both went missing that things began to change, that information on missing children was entered into an FBI database. From the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to the advent of the Amber Alert system, the Etan Patz case is really credited with the change in mindset from "wait-and-see" to "urgent" when it comes to missing kids. Perhaps that's one silver lining we can see out of the dark shadows of this case.
Stranger danger is so common in the culture that we can now laugh about it -- especially since we’re now told that kidnapping by strangers is rare. Etan’s story undermines that belief. I know statistically it’s still true that our children are more in danger with people they know than any Tom, Dick, Harry or Jane on the street, and I will still teach them how to act in those situations. And yet, this morning, I was tempted to tell my sons, both now on summer break, that they couldn't play in the yard. Then I forced myself to gently shove them out the back door, though my window is open and I sit here staring. BlogHer member Pam Alster asks the questions I wonder about cases like these, about how the US has evolved when it comes to child safety:
Perhaps we’re doing the best by this generation with the hovering, the indoor playgrounds, the plastic, the smart phones. But with summer looming, I wonder, are we ultimately doing more harm than good?
But Etan's disappearance did change our world, and not just with faces on milk cartons. On Twitter:
The first child to appear on a milk carton was only 12 days older than me. No wonder my mother was overprotective.#EtanPatz
Other tweets share some of my own reactions:
how do you live w/fact of murdering a child for THIRTYTHREE years? the imagination fails #etanpatz
I hope that Hernandez's confession will bring closure to this sad story -- for Etan's parents, and for the parents of a generation of children who always looked over their shoulders. As we can't do anything more than watch this story unfold, I encourage you to visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and look around their section about National Missing Children's Day. They have an easy list of things you can do to promote safety and promote their work, including putting a banner on your blog and Take 25 minutes to talk to your kids about safety.
Whatever you do today, hug your kids. Feel free to comment with your thoughts -- anything ranging from wishes of peace to his parents to how the US now handles child safety and recovery. Do you hover? Do you remember your parents hovering? Do you think all of the changes are good? What can we, as parents, do to keep our kids safe?
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