- Last Updated: 9:17 AM, May 25, 2012
- Posted: 1:13 AM, May 25, 2012
The relief is palpable. But the pain and anger will never die.
Many conspired to cover up the 1979 murder of little Etan Patz — the lost boy who will burn forever in the city’s consciousness as the symbol of our pain, suffering and collective guilt.
Pedro Hernandez, 52, of New Jersey, yesterday confessed that he lured young Etan into the basement of a SoHo bodega back in 1979, 33 years ago to this day.
It was just around the corner, and an eternity, from the spot where Etan lived.
He then strangled the poor child, Hernandez admitted to cops, and tossed his lifeless body into the trash. We may never know why, but we know Hernandez never tried to hide his alleged crime.
His loved ones hid his alleged savagery for him — without giving a thought to the damage it did to our city, our nation. To a generation of children who grew up, went to college and had kids of their own, always thinking in the back of their minds: “This could happen to someone I love.’’
For decades, in fact, Hernandez virtually screamed from the rooftops — “I killed Etan.’’ But no one wanted to hear.
Hernandez confessed to his family that he “did a bad thing’’ and murdered a child more than 30 years ago. They did nothing.
He told his so-called “spiritual adviser’’ that he was a child killer at least as far back as the 1980s.
The silence was deafening.
This was New York. In the days before “If you see something, say something,’’ no one really wanted to know.
Hernandez’s neighbors and customers said the man was strange, quiet and hung out at the bodega long after it closed. Not a crime in itself — but with a missing child, Hernandez’s behavior should have raised red flags.
“He was never one to look you in the eye,’’ said Roberto Hernandez, a SoHo old-timer.
But if Hernandez struck anyone as odd, nobody as much as asked what the devil an 18-year-old was doing prowling the then-seedy shops of SoHo after hours.
The cops never interviewed Hernandez all those years ago, they admitted yesterday shamefacedly.
In the more than three decades that followed Etan’s disappearance, his parents lived with the guilt that they let their son walk two blocks to his bus stop. Alone.
All the while, the confessed killer has been living in plain sight, virtually begging to be caught. It’s a travesty.
Since Etan vanished, this city has lived with decades of dread. Even as SoHo emerged from near-ruin into a vibrant, expensive and desirable neighborhood, we have not forgotten the lost little boy.
“I think of myself back then,’’ said resident Desmond Cadogan.
“It was still a bit shabby and it was like no man’s land. And here was a 6-year-old kid, going out alone,’’ he said, not letting Etan’s parents off the hook.
The case may have been solved, but it’s way too late for anything remotely resembling “closure.’’
Today SoHo rocks. And still, Etan’s face haunts the streets.
“I will never forget this boy,’’ said Amy Rodriguez. She walked down a rain-slicked street, holding tightly her young son’s hand.
“This will never be over.’’
For Etan’s family, the pain is eternal. For an entire city, the fear will never vanish.