As authorities searched a cellar in New York City for the remains of a boy missing since 1979, the Associated Press says the case changed child-rearing in America. Before Etan Patz, 6, disappeared, the notion that a child could be abducted right off the street, in broad daylight, was not familiar. Children roamed their hometowns freely, unencumbered by fear. They could walk to school and the bus stop and just about anywhere. That all changed after Patz set off for school and did not return. A new age of paranoia had grabbed hold of the national psyche. And so many years later, that paralyzing sense of fear has yet to fully release its grip.
“In many ways, it was the end of an era of innocence,” said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children. “And parents suddenly became much more protective and much more hovering over their children.” Patz was one of the first missing children whose face would appear on a milk carton. In the coming years more faces would follow, mutely appealing for help from a public that began, for the first time, to mobilize on a grand scale in its efforts to find them.