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Etan Patz case: Disappearance led to Missing Children Day

April 20, 2012|By Steve Padilla
  • The disappearance of Etan Patz in 1979 led to the creation of Missing Children Day and other efforts to protect children.
The disappearance of Etan Patz in 1979 led to the creation of Missing Children… (AP Photo/File )

It’s no coincidence that National Missing Children Day is observed May 25. The date marks the disappearance of Etan Patz, the young boy who vanished 33 years ago and is now the subject of an intense search by the FBI and local authorities in New York.

FBI agents this week dug up the basement of a home in Manhattan’s SoHo district in search of his remains. Etan, with his flowing hair and soulful eyes, captured the public’s imagination, and his disappearance in 1979 changed the way the nation handles cases of missing children.

The boy’s photograph appeared on posters, and the “image of this little boy is absolutely haunting. It became an iconic image,” said Ernie Allen, president and chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “Etan was the first missing child poster.”

Photos: The search for Etan Patz

President Ronald Reagan invoked Etan in 1983 when he signed a proclamation declaring May 25 as Missing Children Day.

“The date of May 25 has particular significance in the cause of missing children,” Reagan said. “On that day in 1979, 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared from his home in New York City. Unfortunately, Etan has never been found. His brave parents have fought to increase our awareness of this tragedy and to improve the agencies that work to solve this unique type of crime.”

In the decades since, the country has improved how it handles cases of missing children, Allen said in an interview. There is better coordination among police departments, for example, and waiting periods to report missing children have been eliminated, he said. Amber Alerts were another innovation.

Reagan outlined such goals in his proclamation: “I urge officials at all levels of government to take decisive action to ensure the safety and protection of the children in their respective jurisdictions, and I urge all our law enforcement agencies to take particular notice of the danger that threatens any child who has lost his or her home.”

Allen noted that Missing Children Day is now observed not just in the United States but around the world, though most people may not realize its connection to Etan Patz. The day is meant to remind parents, guardians and adults in general to make child safety a priority.

Allen said the work by authorities this week in New York carries an important message to families of missing children: “The search goes on.” Missing children, he said, are not forgotten.

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steve.padilla@latimes.com

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