NEW YORK, February 15, 2017 – Etan disappeared on May 25, 1979, as he walked to a school bus stop. Pedro Hernandez, the former bodega stock clerk who confessed to kidnapping and murdering 6-year-old Etan Patz was found guilty by a Manhattan jury.
Prosecutors alleged that Hernandez choked the boy to death in his store and then put his body in a plastic garbage bag that he concealed inside a cardboard box. The disappearance of Etan Patz shook the nation as the child was given permission for the first time to walk to the bus stop for school. He disappeared not only to become the first missing child to appear on milk cartons, but also as the public face of parent’s fears.
“Their faces will be there at the breakfast table,” Joe Mayo, a police commander in Chicago told The Associated Press in 1985, shortly after the program launched. “People will have to think about it.”
The campaign, begun by the National Child Safety Council and hundreds of dairies across the country, created a type of push notification to keep the plight of missing children in the public’s eye long before we had the internet and Amber alerts flashing across our highway signs.
The 1996 Amber Alert system is named after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman who was abducted and murdered in 1996. Her case has never been solved.
Amber alerts are sent out over commercial radio stations as well as Internet and satellite radio stations, television and cable stations, the Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio.
The alerts are designed to quickly inform the general public when a child has been abducted as 75% of children abducted are murdered within three hours (U.S. Justice Department).
Their most noticed effort may be those seen on electronic traffic-condition signs and billboards and SMA text messages. Recently, GPS mapping systems are also beginning to show Amber Alerts for the areas people are driving through.
Like the milk cartons that brought the face of missing children to millions of family tables, AMBER alerts have spread across the globe, including Canada, France, Ireland, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Malyasia, Australia and Mexico.
The guilty verdict against Pedro Hernandez, 56, in connection with a murder that sparked an era of heightened awareness of crimes against children, marks the end of an agonizing wait of nearly 40 years for Etan’s parents.
Hernandez was convicted after the jury deliberated for only nine days and now faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison during his sentencing hearing later this month. Hernandez was previously tried for the same charges in 2015 but was not convicted, when a single juror forced the judge to declare a mistrial.
On the earlier jury, the lone holdout against conviction cited the mental health issue as a major reason for his stance. This time, the jury concluded Hernandez had a psychiatric disorder but hadn’t imagined killing the boy. Hernandez showed no emotion and is expected to appeal. Hernandez confessed to police after a 7½ hour interrogation, but his lawyers said he made up his account of the crime due to his severe mental illness.
The investigation that took a decade to solve, took investigators around the world, including Israel. The Patz family still has no answers to what really happened to their child. Etan’s remains were never found, and prosecutors had no scientific evidence from crime scenes to corroborate their arguments.
Hernandez became a prime suspect after his brother-in-law called detectives saying that he could be responsible.