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Etan Patz case -- and what it means for parents of missing children

May 26, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Julie Patz, mother of Etan Patz, speaks on NBC-TV's "Today" show in New York.
Julie Patz, mother of Etan Patz, speaks on NBC-TV's "Today"… (Dave Pickoff / Associated…)

The possibility that police might finally have captured the man responsible for Etan Patz's disappearance is giving new hope to other parents seeking answers about their own missing children. 

"The primary sentiment we are feeling today is that we find this positive and inspiring," said Ernie Allen, president and chief executive of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. "What I think it does is send a message to searching families across the country that you don't close these cases just because you don't find a child or achieve resolution. The search goes on."

Allen said he hoped that the Patz case would help reinvigorate the search for many other American children who have vanished, seemingly without a trace. Among them: Jhessye Shockley, 5, of Glendale, Ariz., shown in this photo gallery.

PHOTOS: Have you seen them?

Jhessye's mother left the girl home alone with an older sibling to run some errands on Oct. 11, 2011. The mother says the girl was gone by the time she returned.

The developments in the Etan Patz case could prompt the public to take a fresh look at photos of Jhessye and other high-profile missing children and maybe, just maybe, remember a crucial detail.

As for Etan, his disappearance marked a moment in U.S. history when parents realized their children were not as safe as they once suspected. There were missing-children cases long before Etan's. But the crushing details -- he disappeared while walking to school the very first time he was allowed to do so without his mother -- shook the country to its core.

New York City prosecutors Friday filed second-degree murder charges against Pedro Hernandez, who stepped forward after years of silence to confess to luring the boy into a bodega basement and then killing him, disposing of his body in the trash. Law enforcement officials were proceeding cautiously, trying to determine whether the man is indeed telling the truth.

Hernandez's court appearance took place on the 33rd anniversary of Etan's May 25, 1979, disappearance. That day was also National Missing Children's Day, a designation ushered in by President Reagan to remind Americans of the plight of missing children.

Although law enforcement officials have weathered some criticism for their handling of the case, Allen told The Times that the parents of many missing children feel admiration for them.

"I think it is remarkable and really cause for praise that last month the NYPD and the FBI were [pursuing another tip in the Etan case] digging up a basement for a child who disappeared 33 years ago, and now this. It sends a loud and clear message that 'we don't stop until the child is found.' Many parents appreciate that.'"

He added: "Wherever this goes, and whether this is the real solution or not, it brings this family closer to answers. The worst part of this is the not knowing. Many parents would rather know the tragic facts than have to live in this limbo of not knowing."

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New Jersey man arrested in 1979 disappearance of New York boy, Etan Patz

Join Rene Lynch on Google+Facebook or Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com

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