I was 7-years-old when 6-year-old Etan Patz disappeared in New York City. He was taken less than two blocks from his home on the first day he walked to the school bus stop alone.
I had never heard of Etan before last week when I started following the reports about police digging up a near-by basement looking for evidence of the little boy’s death 33 years later. (Here’s the latest on their search.)
However, I was very aware of the missing and murdered children in Atlanta around the same time. I remember telling me mother that I was scared I would be kidnapped and killed during that time.
Some experts say that the Etan Patz, the missing and murdered children in Atlanta, Adam Walsh and Polly Klaas cases “catapulted concern about missing children to the forefront of national consciousness” and made parents anxious and paranoid about losing their children.
“It awakened America,” said Ernie Allen, president and chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “It was the beginning of a missing children’s movement…”
“The cases received increasing news coverage in a fast-changing landscape that saw a proliferation of media outlets with growing interest in compelling visual images — such as a heart-rending photo of a smiling child or video of parents pleading for their child’s safe return.”
“The actual number of children who were kidnapped and killed did not change — it’s always been a relatively small number — but awareness of the cases skyrocketed, experts said….”
Barbara Friedman, associate professor of University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said such “heinous crimes are always newsworthy” and “have been reported in the press for as long as there has been a press.”
“As media became more plentiful and visual in the 1980s, child abductions and child murders allowed for the kinds of images that are at once intimate and universal — like school photos and grieving families,” Friedman said.
“The use of milk cartons as another form of media to locate missing children was a way to bring the issue into the family space — the breakfast table — heightening awareness as well as anxieties.”
So I am fascinated by this analysis. (The Associated Press has a similar one.) Is this the reason I am so protective (over-protective?) of my kids? Are these cases the reason I won’t let my kids go to the park alone or wander several neighborhoods over?
I find the professor’s comments very interesting about how bringing the missing kids on the milk cartons into the family space made it more stressful for families. (I have often heard that about television and the Vietnam War – that the news reports being watched over dinner made it all too real.)
I try to think I need to relax. They are fine. But then you hear about another child missing. (A 6-year-old is missing from her bed in Tucson this weekend.) Or you get a robo-call from your school district about a white truck repeatedly approaching girls on the street after school. (That happened last year here.)
I love the last quote in the CNN story because I really do feel this way – it could happen to my child any time.
“I think it ended an era of innocence in this country,” Ernie Allen said. “Parents around the nation saw how it happened and thought, ‘But for the grace of God, my child.’”
Did your remember the Etan Patz story as a child? Did you grow up with fear of becoming one of Atlanta’s missing and murdered children? Do you remember the Adam Walsh case and Polly Klaus? (I actually do remember both of those?)
Do you agree with this analysis from CNN that those cases made parents paranoid about letting their kids out of their sight?