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Editorial: Suburban Boogeyman

The abduction of 6-year-old Etan Patz 33 years ago was not only a horrendous crime, but it also was the actualized embodiment of every parent’s deepest and darkest fear.

With the May 24 arrest of 51-year-old Pedro Hernandez, there appears to be closure on this heretofore unsolved crime. Patz became the first missing child to appear on the back of a milk carton. His disappearance not only helped heighten awareness surrounding missing and abducted children, but it also spurred President Ronald Reagan to declare May 25 National Missing Children’s Day and for congress to establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 1983 and 1984 respectively. While this high-profile crime happened in an urban setting, there’s always been the concern of these insidious transgressions making their way into seemingly bucolic suburban settings. In fact, Hernandez hails from the middle class burg of Maple Shade, NJ, a community whose motto is, “Nice town, friendly people.” 

But aside from high-profile victims like Patz and Adam Walsh, the notion of children being scooped up by the proverbial stranger in a van with promises of candy and puppies is more myth than reality. According to statistics provided to Garden City Life by Janine Kava, deputy director of public information for the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, a total of 865 missing children reports were filed in 2011 for Nassau County. With 748 of these cases being reported as runaways, none of the 191 cases remaining open at year’s end were classified as stranger abductions. Suffolk County’s 2011 numbers were similar; 1,486 missing children, 1,389 runaways and no stranger abductions among the 72 remaining cases that remained open at the start of 2012. With parents taking a more precautionary route in warning their offspring about speaking to strangers along with the hundreds of public service announcements and programs warning of the same perils, apparently the message is getting through to the youth of today. While this may provide cold comfort to the parents of Etan Patz and other families who’ve been subjected to these horrific acts, these deaths did provide a wake-up call to the naïvete of a populace.

— DGdR