I vividly remember the day Etan Patz disappeared. At our rented raised ranch in Poughkeepsie, we still got the local TV news from New York City, and my husband and I were watching when a picture of the smiling six-year-old flashed on the screen. The announcer said he’d disappeared that day: Friday, May 25, 1979. The news blindsided both of us – we’d been neighbors and friends of the Patz family, and our daughter had been in Julie Patz’s daycare program.
After years in our Prince Street loft in SoHo, two doors west of the Patz family, we’d tried a tentative move upstate. I was a newly credentialed art therapist, with an M.A. from NYU and a job at Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie. When we’d considered leaving the city, I bought a fresh New York State map and a compass, and drew a circle with an 80-mile radius centered on SoHo. Poughkeepsie fell within the acceptable radius, and so I took the job, beginning February 1, 1979.
I’d lived in SoHo since 1967, before the Lower Manhattan loft district even had a name, and it had grown increasingly commercialized and frenetic through the years. We thought it might be time to move out, to find a more peaceful place to put down roots and raise our daughter, but we weren’t sure. That newscast on May 25 was the tipping point; we put our loft up for sale the next week.
Seeing last night’s feature about Etan Patz on ABC’s 20/20 brought back memories, both painful and nostalgic. There were lots of shots of our Prince Street coop loft building and its environs, and they looked remarkably grubby. The many photos of Etan taken by his father, Stan Patz, and the interviews with Stan were heart-wrenching. His mother Julie refuses to talk to the press.
I’ve walked past our Prince Street loft many times on visits to the city, and I’ve seen the name Patz on the door at 113, but I’ve never rung the bell. What could I possible say? This story is every parent’s worst nightmare. Now, on the thirtieth anniversary of Etan’s disappearance, the nightmare has been resurrected. New York ran a story in their May 11th issue, based on a new book by Lisa R. Cohen titled After Etan: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive. And then of course there’s last night’s 20/20 story.
The journalists profit from these stories, but what’s the payoff for the bereaved family? It must be excruciatingly painful to be dragged into the limelight after all these years. But apparently there’s hope that the case will yet be tried before a grand jury. There’s overwhelming evidence against a pedophile named Jose Antonio Ramos, now in prison in Pennsylvania on a separate case. Ramos is up for release in 2012, but Stan Patz wants to see him safely behind bars for the rest of his life, so that he won’t have the opportunity to harm another young boy. That’s his mission, and the reason he’s subjecting himself to all the public scrutiny yet one more time.
My thoughts and prayers are with the Patz family on this thirtieth anniversary of Etan’s disappearance. May they find peace and justice.