Fact Sheet

Have the cops finally caught Etan Patz's killer?

Police take a suspect into custody, raising hopes of a breakthrough in a missing-child case that had been cold for 33 years

"An individual now in custody has made statements to NYPD detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz 33 years ago," New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said on Thursday. That statement is raising hopes that authorities have finally figured out what happened to Etan, who was six years old when he disappeared on May 25, 1979, while walking to the bus stop from his family's Soho apartment in New York. Etan's disappearance helped raise national awareness of child abductions, and he was one of the first missing children ever to appear on the side of a milk carton. Here, a guide to the latest developments:

Who do the police have in custody? A man named Pedro Hernandez. In 1979, he worked at a bodega near the bus stop where Etan was headed, says The New York Times. Police say Hernandez has confessed to strangling Etan, wrapping his body in a bag, and depositing it in a box somewhere in Manhattan, according to The Times. Hernandez reportedly told investigators that the box was gone when he returned to the site several days later.

Why are police suddenly focusing on him now? "Investigators recently received a phone call that tipped them off" to Hernandez, reports the AP. Hernandez has also been tied to the case in the past, and police once considered him a possible suspect. He was apprehended on Wednesday night in New Jersey, where he moved shortly after Etan's disappearance.

So... case closed?Not even close. Hernandez has not yet been charged with any crime, and it's unclear whether anyone has corroborated his alleged confession, says The Times. Without any other evidence, the case could "face significant evidentiary hurdles." Plus, police say "some of Hernandez's statements contradict known facts," says ABC News, and they will have to "proceed with caution, in case Hernandez turns out to be making some form of false confession," says Britain's The Guardian

Have there been other suspects in the past? Yes. A longtime suspect was Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester who "had been dating Etan's babysitter at the time the boy disappeared," says the AP. Ramos has long denied any involvement, though a civil court in 2004 ruled that he was responsible for the boy's death. Last month, police ripped up a basement near the bus stop on suspicions that a handyman, Othniel Miller, was involved in Etan's disappearance, but the search proved fruitless.

What do Etan's parents say? They have yet to comment. Since 1979, they have not moved from their apartment in SoHo nor changed their phone number, "in case their son tried to reach out," says ABC News.

Sources: ABC NewsAssociated Press, The GuardianThe New York Times 

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