The man who has confessed to murdering six-year-old Etan Patz was hospitalised for fear he might attempt suicide as he awaited arraignment yesterday, exactly 33 years after the boy vanished without a trace in one of New York City’s most traumatic missing-child cases.
Following his arrest, Pedro Hernandez told police he had never seen his victim before that day, but once he saw him, “I knew he was the one . . . [I] just felt the urge to kill,” a law-enforcement source told the New York Post.
It is one of the city’s highest profile crimes in history and helped launch a missing children’s movement across the United States. Patz became the first face to feature on a milk carton to help trace his whereabouts.
Cancer-stricken Hernandez lived in the same Manhattan neighbourhood as Patz and had been known to detectives for years. However, the teetotaller was identified as a suspect in the past month by a member of his family after news broke that investigators were digging up a former handyman’s basement on Prince Street in late April.
Nothing was found there, but the search prompted Hernandez’s brother-in-law, José Lopez, to call the NYPD and tell them that Hernandez had admitted killing an unnamed child shortly after Etan vanished, sources said.
Hernandez, 51, lured the child “with the promise of a soda, and led him to the basement of the bodega, and strangled him there,” said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Hernandez then placed Etan’s body in a bag, took it a block and a half away and left it “with the trash,” Kelly said.
In his written confession, Hernandez stated, “I’m sorry, I shoke [sic] him,” the sources said.
The boy’s body was never recovered.
The arrest of the married New Jersey father — who was 18 and working in a grocery store stacking shelves when Etan was killed — took the child’s parents by surprise.
Stan and Julie Patz were out of the city when police informed them of the arrest. “Mr Patz was taken aback, a little surprised and overwhelmed,” said Lt Christopher Zimmerman, head of the NYPD’s Missing Persons Squad.
Hernandez’s name was included in a detective’s report when the case broke, but was not questioned until Wednesday.
Yesterday marked the 33rd anniversary of the boy’s disappearance. The date is now recognised as National Missing Children’s Day in the United States.
Hernandez was taken into custody at his residence in Maple Shade, NJ, on Wednesday morning where he lives with his wife and daughter. The apartment is rented by his wife, Rosemary Hernandez, who let her husband move in after he told her that he was dying of cancer.
New York City police officers accompanied by local cops took him into custody at his New Jersey home at 7:30am on Wednesday and brought him to the Camden County, NJ, Prosecutor’s Office for initial questioning.
He was then taken to New York City for additional questioning by authorities there.
Police have named other suspects in the past, but none had ever been arrested or charged.
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