A team of police officers and FBI agents began digging up a basement in NY as part of a decades-old probe into the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz, whose case made a generation of parents afraid to send their children out alone. (April 19)
[Location - Date:New York - April 19][Source:WABC-TV][VO:Aerials of police gathered outside search site][INSERT: Wire Copy]A team of police officers and FBI agents began digging up a basement in New York City on Thursday as part of a decades-old investigation into the disappearance of a 6-year-old Etan Patz, whose case made a generation of parents afraid to send their children out alone. Etan vanished without a trace in 1979 after leaving his family's Manhattan apartment for a short walk to catch a school bus. It was the first time his parents had let him go off to school alone. The building being searched sits about a block from where the family lived, in the borough's SoHo section, and is along the route that the boy would have taken on his walk to the bus stop. Police spokesman Paul Browne said a forensic team was looking for blood, clothing or human remains, and expected to be at the site for as many as five days. He wouldn't say what evidence led investigators to the property. The 15 foot by 30 feet basement space being searched now sits beneath a clothing boutique. The building, vacant at the time of the disappearance, has undergone renovations over the decades, and Browne said investigators began by removing drywall partitions so they could get to the area where they planned to dig. The excavation was part of a review of the case, recently ordered by the Manhattan district attorney, he said. "This was a shocking case at the time and it hasn't been resolved," Browne said. Etan's disappearance was a media sensation in 1979. The press attention helped fuel a national movement to publicize the cases of missing children. Etan's face was among the first to appear on milk cartons, and President Ronald Reagan declared May 25 to be National Missing Children's Day. No one has ever been prosecuted for the crime, but the boy's parents sued an incarcerated drifter and admitted child-molester, Jose Ramos, who had been dating Etan's babysitter around the time he disappeared. Ramos denied killing the child, but in 2004 a Manhattan judge ruled him to be responsible for the death. Ramos is scheduled to be released from prison in Pennsylvania this year, when he finishes serving a 20-year-sentence for abusing an 8-year-old boy.