Etan: The End

Readers – As I”m sure almost all of you have heard, there has been an arrest, 33 years too late, of a man who confesses to murdering Etan Patz.

In the wake of 6-year-old Etan’s 1979 disappearance came the era we are living in to this day, the “Don’t let your child out of your sight, he could be snatched like that little boy” era. It’s an outlook reinforced daily by the media (“Up next: Children at risk!”) and the marketplace (“Buy this! Your children are at risk!”). It has been embraced by schools (“No walking allowed! Your children are at risk!”), and day care centers (“We have cameras everywhere. Your children are at risk!”), and by the law (“No letting your kids wait in the car. Your children are at risk!”). In short, the fact that we can see Etan even with our eyes closed has allowed the fascism of fear to flourish.

Knowing how he died provides cold comfort. I’m also not sure there’s any way to make a murder “meaningful.” But it does make me want to take action. For the sake of the next 33 years’ of children, I want to help our culture regain  its perspective. We remember this tragedy more than a generation later precisely because things like this do not, thank God, happen all the time. We cannot raise our children as if they do. And we can’t organize our lives around avoiding random, rare, heartbreaking events. Lisa Belkin makes this point movingly in her Huffington Post piece today.

Let me repeat the words another writer sent here a few weeks back: Fear does not prevent death. It prevents life.

Let’s not prevent it in Etan’s name anymore. – L.

48 Responses

  1. Beautifully put, Lenore.

    There’s a saying, in AA: “Think the drink all the way through.” Basically, you’re encouraged to consider all the repercussions of your actions- sure, a single drink would be nice, but if you’re an alcoholic that drink leads to another, and another, and sooner or later your life begins to spiral. I can see that saying applying here: protecting your child? What could be the downside? Except, overprotection has its spiraling effects too.

  2. Lovely article – but she has the statistics wrong, I think: she notes that it would take 750 000 *hours* for it to become statistically likely that a child be abducted….my understanding is that it would actually take 750 000 *years* for that to be true. I can’t see any way to contact the author….Lenore, perhaps you could correct her, if you have a way of getting in touch?

  3. Here’s my answer to a concerned mum in the comments under the article, who argued that the loss of a child, no matter how unlikely, was too great a risk to take any kind of chance:

    “I hear you, Sarah. But keep in mind that there is never zero risk. You just move it around, you don’t eliminate it. For example, if you choose to keep your kids at home instead of exposing them to the risk of bullying at school, you dramatically increase their chances of dying in a fire – nearly all of which happen in domestic, not institutional, locales. If you drive them to school instead of exposing them to the risk of being abducted off the street (actually this is less likely than a shark attack, even in Wyoming), you expose them to the biggest risk they will probably ever face, unless they become paratroopers or deep sea divers: Death in a car accident. I know emotionally it’s hard to accept any risk, but we don’t have any choice. It’s a matter of understanding what is an acceptable risk, and measuring that against benefits of our choices. Is giving our kids a sense of independence, trust, and competence worth the almost non-existent risk of abduction by a stranger? I think so. So that is a risk I’m willing to take. No matter what we do, it’s a risk – it’s just a matter of figuring out which ones are worth it.”

  4. In the Trenches- Exactly! When you eliminate one risk, other risks can increase. It really pays to think things through.

  5. Sorry, I have a little trouble with this announcement and arrest. Just three days ago they said the guy was mental and there was not enough information to charge him. The story here states no new information, no physical evidence. This is not the end, this is the beginning of a very long and arduous investigation, with no witnesses, and no physical evidence and a suspect the police has already said is a nut case.
    i do hope people take note and begin stop being nut cases over children and let kids have their freedom, intelligence, independence and learning experience back. And I do hope, for the family, that this case same does come to an end and closure.

  6. Yesterday we had a freak, severe thunderstorm right at school dismissal time. The kids ride their bikes every day, yesterday was no different. I saw the news break about the Etan case earlier, and thought about the many times my kids go off to school without me and the risks involved. But yesterday was a REAL risk, and I met them out where the bikes were (our “Plan B”), and drove them home instead. Lightning was striking hard, and they understood completely the risks of an electrical storm and their safety.

    Later when the storm cleared, I drove back to school to get the bikes. They rode them home, hit every puddle on the way, and got home before me. They were covered in mud, wet, smiling and laughing. I can’t imagine losing a child. But taking away their childhood freedom for my personal peace of mind won’t stop lightning from striking.

  7. Lollipoplover, that is an awesome, and perfect, story.

  8. A friend post someething about Etan today. The jist was “THIS is why my wife doesn’t work and why we never take our eyes off our son.” Sigh. Nicest family in the world, but I couldnt live my life in constant fear like that. I feel bad for them that they thiink they have to.

  9. I grew up in Belgium, the country where Marc Dutroux and his pedophile ring abducted and abused 6 girls between 8 and 19 and murdered 4 in the 90s. The case send shockwaves of anger and sadness through the country. But parents still let their kids walk to school alone, let their teenagers take public transport into town to go to the movies and allow them pretty much the same freedoms that their parents had. Not sure why this would be so different in the US?

  10. Lin: I assume Belgium doesn’t hae the kind of “car culture” the US does; IIRC in most of Europe, a liter of gas costs as much as a gallon does in the US. I see the US tendency to drive kids everywhere as a form of conspicuous consumption.

  11. My parents’ house backs into a wooded area that leads into a park. When I was ten or so, I used to go to the park practically every weekend that it wasn’t snowing, either to Rollerblade on the tennis court with my friends, or to build forts in the woods with my brother. In the winter, we skied. I remember returning from hundreds of afternoons at the park, and hundreds of ski trips, completely unscathed. So, if I were to sensationalize that, I guess you could say, “Our children AREN’T at risk!!!”

  12. I had the most bizarre conversation today. A Mom I know also commented that, in light of the Etan case, her desire to keep an eye on her kids at all time was reinforced. She is deeply afraid of sexual predators. And then, seriously I am not kidding you, within 5 minutes, we were discussing how much her 6 year old daughter loves watching Toddlers and Tiaras. How is it possible that the same society that thrives on shocking horror shows like Toddlers and Tiaras can, at the same time, be paranoid about sexual predators? I am utterly baffled.

  13. Well said Lenore!

    Its almost hard to decide – string the confessor up for murdering a little boy, or string him up for contributing to the flashpoint for the “fascism of fear.”

    And @ EtobicokeMom – it baffles me too.
    First of all, I don’t believe there is a pandemic of sexual predators. Second, there would be a lot fewer problems in this area if little girls weren’t dressed up like hookers (we call them “Prosti-tots” around here) and the Catholic schoolgirl outfit wasn’t rated the #1 stripper costume. Helloo? schoolgirl? Yes, its fantasy and the percentage of people who act out on their fantasies is very small, so its not the fact that bothers me. What bothers me is that it is the height of hypocrisy to drench the underage in sexuality and parade them around TV and magazines, and then scream “pervert!” when a man has a sexual response to it.

  14. A Mom I know also commented that, in light of the Etan case, her desire to keep an eye on her kids at all time was reinforced.

    Conversations like that make me want to scream. I keep thinking “But that was DECADES ago!”

    I wouldn’t say it to anybody who knew the kid personally – but I don’t know anybody who knew the kid personally! And he was dead before I was even born! Why should his death ruin not my life, but my nieces’ lives?

  15. When I was at uni, I went to study in a different town. As most students, I went out a lot and walked home on my own at all hours of the day and night. I was followed a few times in the dead of night, by men on their own. I always managed to get home without incident but I remember the rage that I felt after I slammed the door behind me. It wasn’t anger over someone possibly wanting to harm me. I was angry because I felt they had no right whatsoever to fill me with fear like that. And I was very determined that I would never give up the right to walk alone at night in my own town.

    Then one night, I noticed again someone cearly following me. I was still quite a distance from home and there were few houses. But a bit further up, there was a newspaper printing place and they had a night guard in a glass office in the carpark. So I quickly walked over there and then stopped, in sight of the guard, thinking the follower would flee. He didn’t. He walked right up to me. He was a short, skinny guy with permed hair, wearing loafers and gold-rimmed glasses, I can still picture him clearly. I wasn’t a big woman, but I could’ve easily pushed him over. He asked: “Do you want to come home to have sex with me”, I said “No, and I want you to go away NOW”, he said “Ok”, turned round on his heels and walked off. It was quite absurd.

    After that, I vowed to myself that if I ever noticed that I was being followed again, I would turn around and confront them straight away. I never had to as it never happened again.

    I have told my daughter this story. And I usually finish by telling her that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

    Of course there are situations where just refusing to let someone scare you is not going to save you. But I want my daughter to grow up with the idea that she has a RIGHT to live without fear. I want her to believe that she controls her own destiny and not some imaginary stranger.

  16. @Anne:

    As a man I agree with you in everything except in one detail. Most men do not have a sexual response to girls. That only happens in pedophiles and, apparently, helicopter mom imaginations. Men want attractive women, not children. Men have sexual responses to women, not children.

    Yes we’re attracted to children, the same way a healthy normal women would be – we like kids, we think kids are great, we think kids are a lot of fun, and we want to protect them from harm.

  17. Yan –

    But what is the definition of “woman?” Obviously it isn’t 5. But 13, 14, 15 year olds are sexually mature. They have curves, hormones, pheromones. When we lived shorter lives, teens married and had children.

    So only a pedophile would be attracted to a 5 year old dressed up like a hooker but the line is more and more blurred as the little girls change into young women. 5 year olds parading around as hookers lead to 10 year olds parading around as hookers lead to 15 year olds parading around as hookers. At some point the child will be developed enough to cause a sexual response from even an average man. Especially in our youth-obsessed culture. And the onset of this puberty is getting younger and younger.

  18. Just today, I received a note from my daycare that a child was unsupervised for a short time. In the building. For a short time. The parents were immediately notified and they are considering what to do about it. For a kid who was in the building. Granted, some of this is state law coming down on them. But it’s ridiculous. i read the letter and wondered why they were informing me of this.

  19. Donna, I get what you are saying. And I think we need to teach our daughters that it is not necessary to be giving off sexual signals all the time (or ever) to be popular or accepted, but more for the sake of their self image and self esteem. Because at the same time they also need to know that they have a right to say no and for that no to be respected regardless of how they are dressed. And we owe it to our sons to believe that they can and will practice self control in those situations too.

    Having said all that, I get angry with women coming to the office dressed in mini skirts and cleavage down to the navel. Because there is no doubt that that is very distracting to most of the men they work with. There is a time and place for everything. And it is common courtesy for women (and girls indeed) to be aware of the sexual signals they give off and to use them in moderation and appropriately. But then, lots of women would probably call me a prude for saying that. Though I think I’m probably less prudish than most. I just don’t see any need to go advertise that fact to everyone I pass on the street. There is such a thing as privacy. Or was once anyway…

  20. Slightly off topic, but if any of you Free Rangers are on Mamapedia, we can give some answers to this woman whose 12-year-old daughter wants to walk to school on her own. I responded. There are only a few responses so far, but they have been of the “you never know what can happen” and “there are so many weirdos out there” type. Here is the link.

  21. Last time I checked there was indeed a man who confessed and was arrested, but until Etan’s remains are found, things are still uncertain.

  22. I might go post this link. It’s advice about avoiding abduction written for kids and it is pretty much what I teach my daughter: Teaching your kids these skills reduces the risk of abduction from very, very small to even much, much smaller. I still think traffic education should be higher on the priority list, but this is good advice for those who cannot let go of the ‘what if’ of abduction. And I’m one of them, but my 7yo walks to school alone.

  23. I can’t sign up because I don’t have a US zipcode… And don’t know one either. 🙂

  24. Lin, No is no and no should always be no. But a lot of 15, 14 and even 13 year olds ARE saying “yes” and are saying “yes” to older men. I have a real problem with letting young teens dress as hookers, say “yes” and then imprisoning the men for stat rape.

  25. Ben, it is my understanding that, if the person who confessed is the killer, there is absolutely no hope of Etan’s remains ever being found. It is very sad that, even with an arrest after 33 years, the parents will still never be able to get 100% proof that their child is gone.

    If I were going to be a helicopter parent, I think that would be my motivation (and maybe it is for many helicopter parents). That is my worst fear. Not so much my child dying. Yes that would be crushing, but there are many ways to die, and not letting my child out of my sight does not guarantee that she will live to a ripe old age. But the fear of never knowing 100% whether she is alive or dead and never being able to fully grieve and move forward. It’s a totally selfish reason to cage your child but when I hear about these parents never moving, never changing a phone message all on the outside chance that Etan will one day come home, the thought does cross my mind.

  26. Lin (and all our international friends) If you need a US zip code to comment on a website here is one: 34677, Oldsmar FL.

    I agree that I don’t think this will be the end of the Etan story or the parental paranoia. Is the man crazy? Did he really do it? Did Etan know him? Was he a stranger? The confession and arrest seem to raise more questions than answers. I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of tv movies, books, articles and interviews that will come in the coming months.

  27. You know what’s funny? Until this story was mentioned, I didn’t know who Etan Patz was, and I’m 43 years old and read a LOT. Somehow back then as a 10-year old, and in the years since until this, I missed it. Guess I was too busy being a kid. Regardless, I lived (and have lived since) as if it never happened.

    I don’t advocate “ignorance is bliss” as a general rule, but I think more parents would do well to, in fact, live (and especially let their KIDS live) as if this never happened. To do so is to NOT deny the world we live in (or disrespect the family of Etan Patz), it’s to not be fooled that the world we do live in is what the media seems to wants us to BELIEVE is the world we live in.


  28. Assuming that the confession is accurate, he was not a stranger to Etan. He was the young man who worked at the corner store that Etan would have visited and passed almost every day.

    He was inside the circle of “people I know” versus “strangers”.

  29. I recommended “The Gift of Fear” to a friend yesterday and noticed that its tagline is “True fear is a gift. Unfounded fear is a curse. Learn how to tell the difference.” Exactly.

    The author does also have a book on protecting children. I think I want to read it.

  30. @Beth K–I think Lenore’s message is about protecting children, though–I mean, first of all, the risks she has the kids take, are all safe. For example, she had one boy learn to ride a bike, but she made sure the lesson took place in a flat, smooth, empty parking lot, the bike fit him properly, and of course, he was wearing a helmet. Also, the boy’s mom and stepdad were there along with Lenore (plus the camera people), so any one of the adults could have intervened in the case of an accident. But, in the bigger sense, this movement also protects kids in the long run–it protects them from growing up so fearful and stifled from not being allowed to take age-appropriate risks (for example biking, sleepovers, walking to school or the corner store, learning to swim, getting a learner’s permit when old enough, going away to college or university), that they don’t actually grow up at all.

  31. @lin thanks for your story. I think a lot of guys following and otherwise harrassing girls is about control. This was called The Rapo Game in some famous 70s book about behavior patterns. Keep the girls in their place and make them think they need a good guy protector. In the US at least, men have always been more likely victims of street crime, so the intended fear is not well based in fact. Also, even married women spend huge amounts of time alone, with no protector nearby. Not sure who benefits from scaring kids into staying home (also using nonfact-based arguments), though. Rapo is still out there.

  32. @Emily, Oh, I know! I just want to see what Gavin de Becker’s take on it is, because the theme of his writing is how to tell whether or not a fear is legitimate (and what to do if it is, and how to get over it if it isn’t),

    I mentioned it because the tagline (Real fear is a gift. Unfounded fear is a curse. Learn how to tell the difference.) seems to me like another application of the free-range philosophy–worry about the things that are legitimate concerns (like wearing a helmet while skateboarding), and let go of the things that aren’t (like letting your child go to the park alone). So I will be interested to see how he applies it to parents’ worries about their children, because that’s not the theme of The Gift of Fear.

  33. @Anne

    As to the idea that men cannot control their physical response to an attractive person, that it true. I’m even sure this is true for pedophiles, they cannot control what turns them on. But there is a world of difference between getting an erection and actually participating in intercourse, and we should hold all adults responsible with who they have sex with.

  34. Hi Donna, sorry haven’t followed this story too far, but where did it come up that they won’t find his body? That sounds really really sad…did he forget where he buried the poor child?

    Also the weather is crap down here at the moment, so make that trip to Onehunga the first thing on your to-do list! Hope you both enjoy yourselves. We may even end up passing you somewhere, as I have to bring Midge up to Auckland to the childrens’ hospital, for chats and other fun with immunologists…..

  35. @hineata – New Yorkers don’t have many places they can bury things. According to his confession, Ramirez placed the body in a trash bin a few blocks away. After 33 years how can you even begin to trace anything?

  36. Lenore in the Aussie media again…

    Children to be given a taste of danger at new childcare centre

  37. Hineata, the accused said that he put the body in a dumpster (large rubbish bin usually in an alley). That dumpster would have been taken to a landfill 33 years ago. They could possibly determine the landfill the trash from that dumpster was taken to all those years ago, but the odds of finding the remains at this point are so low that I highly doubt they’ll even try.

  38. Just found your great book and blog recently! I am loving it! I do have a question about your thoughts on the abduction statistics or the statistics about the safety of our children today (thought this was an appropriate place to ask it): do you think things are safer now because they are indeed safer or do you think it is (even in part) because people are overprotecting their kids? This was something I was debating while reading your book.

    Also, I’m not so worried about my kids being abducted (although the media does keep that in the back of your head constantly) or about worse-case scenarios, but I’m more worried about: 1) strangers NOT intervening or helping if there was a problem for fear of being sued or that “not-my-kid” mentality; 2) being sued for something my kid does (intentional or unintentional); 3) of other kids getting my child into serious trouble (although there really aren’t many kids out and about – mostly the “rebel-looking” kids are out and about – which sort of makes that one seem potentially more scary).

    Just a note: I do consider myself pretty free-range: kid walked to kindergarten on his own; trying to get the kid to go play at the school park on his own, but there’s usually no one there to play with. :/ Kid rode his bike around the block on his own quite young, etc, etc. As stated above, I’m just curious to know people’s thoughts on the statistics that state that our kids are considered safer from crime today – overprotective parenting or reality.

  39. “do you think things are safer now because they are indeed safer or do you think it is (even in part) because people are overprotecting their kids?”

    ALL violent crime is down, even that against adults. If the statistics were a result of parents being overprotective, as opposed to a general downward trend in violent crime, then only crimes against children would be declining; crimes against adults would remain the same.

  40. I have eliminated all possible risks to my child by never having a child in the first place.

  41. You are an idiot who has managed to brainwash a bunch of sheep into becoming your followers. The media reports the truth. As does Dr. Drew, on whose show you showed your ignorance to the world. You looked so incredibly stupid. I guarantee all pedophiles and sex offenders are following you to find out when the next big day is. I feel sorry for your children and the children of all the parents who have consumed your kool-aid.

  42. Amy, I’m guessing that your emotions are running high because you care a lot about safety, well-being, and protection.

    All human beings care about these things, and have different ways of going about supporting them. Statistically, children are not just more likely, but exponentially more likely to die or be injured in a car than walking alone down a street or playing with friends in a park.

    If we all could name five children in the U.S. who died in car crashes in the last 10 years, then your statement — “The media reports the truth” — would resonate more for me.

    As for your use of words like “idiot,” “stupid,” and “ignorance,” I have to say I feel a bit shocked, as I care a lot about honouring parents who are operating from the heart to care for their children in ways that they believe are the most loving they know, ways that many respected researchers confirm support growth and thriving.

    I don’t consider myself a “sheep” or that I’ve been “brainwashed” by Lenore. On the contrary, I’ve been delighted to find a parent who was willing to become a public figure for an issue that is enormously important to me, and I’ve been thrilled to have this online community of people who share a sense of mutual support, shared reality, and a celebration of childhood.

    Did you ever see the film “Strictly Ballroom”? It’s a terrific, silly, and inspiring movie. The main theme is this: “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” This is pretty much what we’re all about here in this Free-Range Kids movement. We know that living in fear of enormously small possibilities is not the life we want to live, and we’re willing to accept the fact that we don’t control every aspect of our kids’ experience.

    I know it seems like it’s a foregone conclusion that any child who is without an adult, anywhere, at any time, is at great risk of harm, but it’s not. I know. It really does seem that way. For whatever reason, I didn’t fall under the spell of hysterical fear that the media seems to promote when it comes to handling kids and their ability to have some experiences without adults around. Can’t blame Lenore for that! I’ve been this way all my life, maybe because I was raised by scientists who understand statistical probability.


  43. You are an idiot who has managed to brainwash a bunch of sheep into becoming your followers.

    Well, that’s real mature.

    The media reports the truth.

    That’s a charmingly naive statement, that “the media” (a conglomerate which always agrees in all aspects?) never spins or selectively reports. Regardless, as the media often *does* report things like “Crime is down in NYC for the 14th year in a row!” and “Car accidents the biggest risk to children’s health!” I suppose that means that this is also the truth?

    As does Dr. Drew, on whose show you showed your ignorance to the world.

    Well, yes, Dr. Drew would be part of the media. Not sure how he spun the whole thing, though. I didn’t watch it.

    You looked so incredibly stupid.

    Insults but not a single fact. It’s not making you look any better, dear.

    I guarantee all pedophiles and sex offenders are following you to find out when the next big day is.

    A guarantee that doesn’t tally at all with the fact that for the past few years that Lenore’s been doing this and running this site, there has been no incidence of stranger abduction or molestation to the children of any of the posters here.

    I feel sorry for your children and the children of all the parents who have consumed your kool-aid.

    Because they aren’t scared of the boogeyman?

  44. @Tsu Do Nimh and Donna – ta for the replies. Had forgotten what New York must be like…. I guess there wouldn’t be many places at all to bury anything. Very sad ….:-(

  45. I hope it’s the end.

    But we’ve seen all too often a “confession” at the hands of desperate police, unwilling to take “no” for an answer.

    Hopefully there is more than just a confession.

  46. Amy,mollie was remarkably polite in her response to your astoundingly rude statement. If the philosophy of the folks here offends you, please refrain from reading further postings here,since I’m sure they would add to your stress. If you must continue to read, please attempt to inject your postings with courtesy and reason, and a modicum of factual evidence to support your rants.

  47. […] We remember this tragedy more than a generation later precisely because things like this (Etan Patz)do not, thank God, happen all the time. We cannot raise our children as if they do. And we can’t […]

  48. Thank God for you Lenore. Whenever I feel so isolated in my attempt to raise my son without the crazy level of fear and hysteria so prevalent now, to give him freedom, time to explore, to give him, basically, as you put it a “childhood”, I check your blog. So happy you are on top of this stuff…and it IS gaining momentum.

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