The tragedy of Etan Patz: How the story developed in May 1979

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SOHO, Manhattan (PIX11) — Almost 38 years after Etan Patz vanished, a Manhattan jury has convicted Pedro Hernandez, who worked in a bodega in the SoHo neighborhood when Patz disappeared. 

The story galvanized the city and the country, and PIX11 covered it from the very beginning on May 25, 1979, when Etan disappeared, never to be seen again. Here, in words and video, is WPIX’s original coverage of the case. 

After the first night after Etan’s disappearance, police investigated reports he had visited a number of shops with a friend.

"He was here yesterday at 4:30 p.m. with a friend of his," a woodshop owner told WPIX-TV. "They took some of our scraps, and bought a couple of pounds of nails. He and his friend left, went around the corner. He was with a small child ... about his own age. Both of them seemed to be having a good time, didn't seem to be under any stress or anything. Just seemed to be two kids out building a couple of pieces of wood."

Indeed, those reports never panned out, as the boy was never seen again.

"This is an awfully safe neighborhood," another resident commented. "I mean, it seems to me to be safe anyway. There's a park down the street that seems perfectly safe, with lots of little kids in it, and they're alone all the time."

Julie Patz, Etan's mother, said she didn't think it was likely he ran away.

Etan's mother said: "It's possible. He has been demanding independence to come and go, even at age six. But, my husband and I have thought about it a good deal ... but I don't think he would have gone without the added impetus of someone older saying 'do it, let's go.'" "I hope he's with somebody, wiser than he ... who will take care of him. Who's still taking care of him."

Addressing his potential captor, she said: "I don't want to hurt you in any way, I don't want to prosecute you ... I just want to bring him home."

Volunteers with the Salvation Army toured the neighborhood in a van equipped with a public-address system and handed out fliers to alert residents.

"He has been missing since Friday," volunteers shouted from megaphones. "He's only six years old. He was last seen wearing a black cap, blue pants and blue jacket."

After the fifth day of searching for the boy, police began to lose hope of finding Etan alive.

"At this point, I don't want to say the boy's not going to be found alive," one NYPD investigator said. "This would be disheartening news to the parents. But, experience would tend to show that after five days, after each day, the chances of the boy coming back alive are less and less."


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