NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Since the time an arrest in the 33-year-old Etan Patz disappearance case was announced Thursday, residents of the young boy’s SoHo neighborhood have been shocked, saddened and relieved.
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A makeshift memorial with flowers and a teddy bear sits at the corner of West Broadway and Prince Street.
The location was once a Bodega and it was there, police said, that 51-year-old Pedro Hernandez killed the 6-year-old in 1979. Hernandez told investigators he lured the little boy into the store, choked him, put his body in a plastic bag and threw it out with the trash, police said.
The boy’s mother, Julie Patz, didn’t have anything to say to reporters as she went into her apartment on Prince Street Friday. Later, her husband and Etan’s father, Stanley Patz, was seen unloading luggage from a van before being escorted into his home by the NYPD’s Chris Zimmerman.
Zimmerman has stayed close the family and broke the news to them on Thursday.
“Mr. Patz was taken aback, a little surprised, and I would say overwhelmed, to a degree,” Zimmerman said Thursday. “He was a little surprised, but I think after everything Mr. Patz has gone through, he handled it very well.”
The Etan Patz case rocked New York City and America and prompted huge changes in the way missing children cases were handled.
“You’re a father, you can totally understand and I can’t imagine what the parents are going through,” said Brooklyn resident James Hernandez, who placed flowers on the sidewalk outside the former Bodega.
Flowers also sit outside the apartment where Patz’s parents still live. The couple never left their SoHo home or changed their phone number in hopes their son would one day return.
“We’re upset, naturally,” said SoHo resident Gina Dodd. “We’re upset for the family.”READ MORE: Police Open Fire, Arrest Man Threatening People With Stolen Kitchen Knives In Lower Manhattan
Virtual stranger Gigi Safee has had Patz’s milk carton photo in her wallet for three decades. She came to the home from Brooklyn for closure.
“I fell in love with him. I was 12 years old. I have…just been following the case. I have every newspaper article,” she said.
“It’s just so sad,” said another woman. “All you can do is send out your prayers to the family and to the wonderful law enforcement people who never gave up after all these years.”
WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb: Ed Koch Reflects On The Case
Ed Koch, who was mayor when Patz disappeared, said Hernandez’s arrest is a great relief to the city.
“Children have been abducted, killed before Etan Patz and have been since, but his case just gripped the city,” Koch told WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb. “Just that a kid can disappear, walking one block away from his home.”
Patz was the first missing child to have his picture appear on the back of a milk carton.
Three years after he went missing, Congress passed the Missing Child Act making it possible for police departments around the country to enter missing child information into the FBI’s database.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated May 25, the day Patz disappeared, as National Missing Children’s Day.
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