NEW YORK (Reuters) - The FBI and the New York Police Department renewed a search on Thursday for the remains of Etan Patz, a young boy whose disappearance in 1979 became one of the city’s most prominent missing child cases.
Investigators were looking for “human remains, personal effects or clothing,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told reporters, saying police were excavating sections of a building’s basement, tearing up flooring and dirt and knocking down walls.
Patz, who was 6 years old when he disappeared, became one of the first missing children to appear on a milk carton at a time of intense national interest in missing children in the 1980s. He was formally declared dead in 2001, but his fate has remained a mystery.
The authorities re-launched their search early on Thursday in the SoHo neighborhood of downtown Manhattan where the boy was last seen alive, FBI spokesman Peter Donald said.
“We are here conducting a search in connection with the ongoing FBI investigation into the disappearance of Etan Patz,” Donald said.
Patz disappeared on May 25, 1979, while walking to a bus stop, two blocks from his home. It was the first time his parents had allowed him to make the trip alone, according to news reports from the time.
The case helped spark a national movement on the issue of missing children. May 25 was declared “National Missing Child Day” in Patz’s honor. It also terrorized a generation of parents, for whom the case stood as a worst nightmare.
No one was ever criminally charged in the disappearance, but in 2004 his family won a $2 million civil judgment against Jose Antonio Ramos, a friend of Patz’s babysitter, who has denied any involvement in Patz’s disappearance. The sum has not been paid.
Ramos has since been convicted in a separate case of child molestation and is serving a prison sentence in Pennsylvania. His sentence will expire in November, a state Department of Corrections spokeswoman said.
The parents of the missing boy, Stan and Julie Patz, still live in the same SoHo apartment, and neighbors said they have been relentless in their pursuit of Etan’s killer. The case became an issue in the 2009 elections for Manhattan district attorney, and after winning the election Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance reopened the case in 2010.
“I‘m very hopeful that this will bring closure to the family,” said Sean Sweeney, the director of the SoHo Alliance, a neighborhood group. “This is a victory for their tenacity. They were like bulldogs.”
Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Philip Barbara