A New Jersey man was in custody on Thursday in the 1979 disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz from his New York City neighborhood, a case that drew national attention to the plight of missing children.
The break in the case came one month after the FBI and New York City Police conducted a four-day excavation of a basement in Manhattan's Soho neighborhood near where Patz lived and was last seen. At the time, police said no obvious human remains were found and it remained a missing person case.
The man in custody was identified by several news outlets as Pedro Hernandez, who now lives in Maple Shade, N.J. The Times said he confessed to strangling the boy and wrapping his body in a bag and putting it in a box.
But, the Times says, when Hernandez returned several days later the box had disappeared.
The paper said Hernandez was interviewed on Wednesday in Camden County, N.J. He was described as "very emotional" during his videotaped interviews. He was taken to Manhatten late in the day.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement,"An individual now in custody has made statements to NYPD detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz 33 years ago."
Although the boy was formally declared dead in 2001, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance re-opened the case in 2010 and investigators tore apart the basement in April looking for clothing and human remains after a cadaver-sniffing dog sensed something at the site.
On May 25, 1979, Patz's parents allowed the boy to make his first unaccompanied trip to the bus stop two blocks away. They never saw him again.
Patz was one of the first missing children in the United States to have his photograph printed on milk cartons, and his case helped fuel an intense national outreach campaign for missing children in the 1980s.
Long targeted as a suspect in the case was Jose Antonio Ramos, a friend of Patz's babysitter who was later convicted of child molestation in a separate case in Pennsylvania. He is due to be released from prison in November.
In a 2004 civil suit Patz's parents brought against Ramos, a New York judge found him responsible for the boy's death, a charge he denied.
Patz family members last month asked the media to respect their privacy as the days-long dig was under way just 100 yards from the home where they still live.
Authorities tore through the floor of a workshop used by a handyman, Othniel Miller, now 75, who had paid the boy to help him with chores. Miller was questioned by police but was not charged with a crime.
On Thursday, dozens of reporters and camera crew milled outside the Patz apartment above a trendy street of high-end boutiques and restaurants. No one answered the door to the apartment.
"I just hope they get some resolution after all these years. It's just a horrific thing," said Carla Seal-Wanner, 58, an animator and mother of three who moved to the neighborhood in the early 1980s. "It was very much still in people's minds. Of course, it always was lurking as the history of the neighborhood."
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