Etan Patz was in first grade when he disappeared 33 years ago on his way to school.
I teach first grade. I know how trusting, loving and happy children are at that age. I imagine Etan walking the two blocks to the bus stop full of big boy pride at finally being allowed to do this on his own for the first time.
But along the way something terrible happened to this sweet-faced little boy.
I remember as a teenager reading about this heartbreaking tragedy that was--and remains--a mystery. Like the rest of the country it hit me hard. How could someone hurt a child? A few days ago I watched an emotionally painful video clip of his father breaking down as he imagined the moment when Etan realized he was being betrayed by an adult.
Now that the case is reopened I have become somewhat obsessed. I have written before about the promise I made myself as a child to one day use my "grown-up" power to protect and listen to children. Etan's story has certainly been an influence and has held a lasting impact towards keeping that resolve.
I wish I could have been there to protect Etan.
After school on Friday I walked over to 127 Price Street to visit the site of his disappearance. I'm not sure why I wanted to go but I was hoping for some sense of something. I wanted to walk the path Etan walked. To imagine his thoughts. To remember him.
It shocked me to realize that only 5 years after his disappearance I moved into an apartment less than 10 minutes from his home. As a student at NYU I worked out at a gym that was just around the corner from his bus stop.
As I deal with the emotions connected with this case I am thankful, once again, that I am in a position to protect, nurture and listen to young children. It does not take away the suffering of those directly involved in the Etan Patz case but his story has helped shape my own. I hope his family gets some closure soon.