TIME Crime

What to Know About Etan Patz, Boy Who Went Missing Nearly 40 Years Ago

A newspaper with a photograph of Etan Patz is part of a makeshift memorial in the SoHo neighborhood of New York, Monday, May 28, 2012. For prosecutors, the work is just beginning after the astonishing arrest last week of a man who police say confessed to strangling the 6-year-old New York City boy 33 years ago in one of the nation's most bewildering missing children's cases. Pedro Hernandez, 51, was charged with second-degree murder in the 1979 death of Etan Patz, based largely on a signed confession he gave to detectives. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Mark Lennihan—AP A newspaper with a photograph of Etan Patz is part of a makeshift memorial in the SoHo neighborhood of New York, on May 28, 2012.

“We hope it will be over”

Prosecutors and the parents of Etan Patz are still seeking justice for the 6-year-old New York City boy who disappeared nearly four decades ago. A man who is suspected of killing Etan is being retried for murder and kidnapping, likely this week, after a jury failed to convict him last year.

Here’s what to know about the cold case that helped spark a national movement to find missing children:

What happened to Etan Patz?
Etan vanished without a trace while on his way to school on May 25, 1979. The first-grader was walking the two blocks to his bus stop—the first time he was allowed to do so alone, according to the Associated Press. Authorities never found Etan’s body, and the boy was declared dead in 2001.

Who did it?
A 55-year-old man named Pedro Hernandez confessed to killing Etan, telling authorities in 2012 that he choked the boy after luring him to the basement of a convenience store with soda. Hernandez, of New Jersey, was a teenager at the time and worked as a stock clerk at a nearby corner store, the AP reports. “I wanted to let go, but I just couldn’t let go. I felt like something just took over me,” Hernandez told detectives. He became a suspect in 2012 after his relatives and a neighbor told police that Hernandez admitted to killing a child in New York.

Why is there a retrial?
Hernandez was tried for murder and kidnapping, but a judge declared a mistrial in May 2015 due to a hung jury. Hernandez’s lawyers claim their client only imagined that he committed the crime. They say he suffers from delusions that stem from mental issues, including schizotypal personality disorder. The defense was enough to get one single juror to say there wasn’t enough non-circumstantial evidence to convict him, according to the AP.

Prosecutors will get another chance to convince a new jury in a retrial, which is expected to being this week. “We hope it will be over soon,” Etan’s father, Stanley Patz, said in a statement to the AP last month.

How did his case change the country?
Etan’s face was one of the first of many missing children to appear on a milk carton. His disappearance sparked fear among many parents, who kept a more watchful eye on their children. Then-President Ronald Reagan in 1983 declared that National Missing Children’s Day would be observed every year on May 25—the day Etan went missing—to encourage parents to serve as a “reminder to continue our efforts to reunite missing children with their families.”

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