Dozens of NYPD officers FBI agents began scouring the basement of a Soho building Thursday, hoping to find evidence linked to the infamous 1979 disappearance of schoolboy Etan Patz.
Law enforcement officials removed shelving and mapped the area of an unused space in the basement of a building just blocks from where Etan lived with his parents. Authorities will continue to search for evidence for the next three to five days, an FBI spokesman said.
“We’re looking for any evidence of human remains, clothing or other personal effects related to Etan in hopes of discovering what happened to him,” police spokesman Paul Browne said.
The Associated Press reports that an investigator close to the case says the basement used to be the workplace of a carpenter known to be friendly with Eton, and FBI dogs had sniffed human remains at the site weeks ago.
Officials will begin to remove drywall, and eventually dig up the 13-foot by 62-foot basement. It was searched during the time of Etan's disappearance, but not excavated, Browne said.
The renewed search was sparked by information gleaned from the case reopened by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance two years ago, the FBI said. It is not clear what the new information is or its source.
"We're not going to be able to comment about what we're looking for, but we are here conducting a search in connection with an ongoing FBI investigation," FBI spokesman J. Peter Donald told WNYC.
A man who answered the buzzer at a Soho address where the Patz family is listed declined to comment.
“We’re not commenting today. Sorry,” he said.
Etan disappeared after leaving his Soho home on his way to the bus stop on May 25, 1979, and was never seen again. He was declared legally dead in 2001.
Etan Patz was the first missing child to appear on a milk carton. President Ronald Reagan named May 25th National Missing Child Day in his honor.
Employees at businesses like Coach and Estee Lauder in the closed down area are being asked to show ID to get pass police barricades.
Walking her dog down the streets she’s lived on since 1974, Judy Reddy said on Thursday she remembers the night in 1979 she returned home with her daughter and passed the crime scene.
Her daughter was the same age as Etan, and afterward she forbid her from walking alone until she was 13-years old.
“I was like a hovering helicopter mom. It was awful,” Reddy said. “Never let her out of my sight after that. I don't think any of the kids were allowed to go on their own.”
Sean Sweeney, director of Soho Alliance, has lived in the area since 1976. He said he hasn't spoke to the Patz family about the incident in 30 years, but is relieved that progress on the case appears to have been made.
"I hope they find something that will give credence to the family's efforts for all these years," he said.
Daniel P. Tucker and Janet Babin contributed reporting.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
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