You Know 6-Year-Old Etan Patz Disappeared 33 Years Ago Because He Was Walking Alone

Way back in 1979 there was the very high profile missing child’s case of Etan Patz — a 6-year-old who went missing in New York City after walking to a school bus stop from home. Etan’s case received quite a heaping of press attention with reportedly even Ronald Reagan weighing in on the disappearing child, and declaring May 25th National Missing Child Day. But after three decades with no charges, Etan’s case is being reopened along with dig up of a SoHo basement. And although it’s obvious that this parental nightmare still keeps resurfacing in truly horrific headlines, the fact that Etan’s parents even let their 6-year-old walk anywhere by himself lets you know that this case was quite a long time ago.

In these modern times of video baby monitors and helicopter babysitters and parents, I don’t know anyone who would let their 6-year-old go anywhere unattended — New York City or otherwise. Our very own editor-in-chief Shawna Cohen doesn’t let her 6-year stray from the home with adult supervision, and the kid apparently has no interest in doing so. Lindsay Cross‘s 6-year-old niece isn’t allowed to play in her fenced in backyard without an adult present — in suburban Indiana. The belief of keeping children that age under constant adult supervision doesn’t seem to waver regardless of whether you’re living in a metropolitan area or a quiet town.

Little Etan disappeared on a solo walk to a school bus stop, a testament to the relatively lax parenting of the 1970s, but also a reminder of how quickly parenting norms have changed.


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  • Frances

    I consider myself a free range parent (a la’ Lenore Skenazy) but 6 years old alone still strikes me as incredibly young. The little girl that lives across the street from me is the same age and she wanders over to my house all time. Once she came four times on a school day because she was out due to religious obligations, to ask for my daughter (who is older) and I had to walk her home each time. The mother looked at me like I was an over-protective nut but I felt funny letting such a tiny girl make her way home next to a busy street.

    I’m a native New Yorker and I has free reign when I was a kid, but not until I was 11 or 12.

  • Bunny

    Wow, another terrible article from! Way to go guys. Keep up the fantastic reporting!

  • Emily

    “You Know 6-Year-Old Etan Patz Disappeared 33 Years Ago Because He Was Walking Alone”
    The title of this piece is pretty rotten; it all but explicitly states that Etan Patz’s parents are to blame for his disappearance.
    Further, from what I understand (I wasn’t even a zygote when Patz disappeared), part of the reason parents are now hyper-watchful of their children is BECAUSE of the Etan Patz case and the huge amount of media attention it gathered.
    This piece is kind of lousy, because of the victim-blaming tone and because it brings up a change in parenting style over time without any discussion at all. It’s like, “Hey, you guys notice how we make our kids wear helmets while riding their bikes now? Bet you that one kid wouldn’t have died 25 years ago if he’d been wearing a helmet!” Utterly useless.

    • Koa Beck

      Hey Emily. No victim blaming here. I don’t think Etan deserved to go missing because he was walking alone — but the fact that he even was speaks volumes about then vs. now in parenting practices.

  • Eldred MD

    In 1979, NYC had a much higher crime rate and violent attack rate than it does today. It was not common place to allow your six year old to walk anywhere unacompanied. Child abductions were no less common place in 1979 than they are now. Very sad case and though no time to place blame, felt then, as I do know, that this childs parents were extremely complacent not just to have him walk alone, but as the news states he had been in that basement alone with another man currently under investigation.

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  • gina

    Found this on the internet, interresting news in the Patz case.

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