It takes a lot to roil New York City…and hardened, jaded, always-in-a-hurry New Yorkers.
But today is one of those days.
Pedro Hernandez, who worked in a bodega, (a small urban convenience store) in 1979, confessed this week to one of the most famous, and heartbreaking, murders in New York’s modern history. He lured a small, blond boy named Etan Patz, who lived down the street in Soho — then a gritty artists’ neighborhood, now a sea of costly stores — with a promise of candy. He strangled him and threw his body in a garbage bag, and left it out with the trash.
Etan was six years old, on his way to school. For the past three decades here, he’s been a symbol of innocence stolen, a mystery unsolved in arguably one of the toughest and most sophisticated cities of the world.
The Patz family, who had only one child, still live in the same apartment on the street where he was taken from them. Their name, and that of Etan, has long been part of Manhattan lore, the mystery no one could solve.
He was the first child whose photo was put on a milk carton, now common in the U.S. with missing children.
I didn’t plan to blog about Etan but this brings back terrible memories for me of a young girl, Alison Parrott, then 11, whose murder I covered, and whose funeral I attended, when I was a reporter in Toronto at The Globe and Mail. She, too, was lured to her death, by a man pretending to be a photographer who said he wanted to take pictures of her and her team before an upcoming track meet in New Jersey. He raped and strangled her and left her in a ravine.
It was almost unbearable to cover that story.
No one can read such stuff, or write it, without the cold fear that it might have been them or their child or someone they dearly loved.
No one can report such details impassionately without wondering what exactly happened that day and why no one stopped him or saved her.
No one, with a heart, can ever forget such a story, no matter how many more you hear and how much you wish to.
I attended Alison’s funeral and sat in the back of the small church, where every pew was jammed with mourners and press. I was there to take notes and to observe and listen, but cried and tried to keep my notebook pages dry as I scribbled.
“Love is stronger than death” my story began, the words the minister used to begin his address to the crowd. I had to fight hard with my editor to keep them. It was the last story I wrote on staff for the paper, and they did.
I love being a reporter.
I live to find and tell compelling stories.
But sometimes they sear you forever.