Do You Remember The First Milk Carton Kid? Over 30 Years Later He Finally Got Justice

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Do You Remember The First Milk Carton Kid? Over 30 Years Later He Finally Got Justice

Today, many parents are so cautious that they won't let their children walk to school anymore. While most of us like to joke about these "helicopter parents" and how they shelter their children, it's easy to forget the real life horror stories behind their fears.

Take the disappearance of Etan Patz for example. The 6-year-old was walking to the bus stop from his family's apartment in New York City on the morning of May 25, 1979 - it was the first time his parents let him make the trip on his own.

Before Etan would reach his bus stop, the young boy disappeared without a trace, launching a mystery that would consume investigators, the Patz family and the country for decades to come.

Here and Now

When Etan didn't come home from school that day his parents called the police. They jumped into action, with more than 100 officers, bloodhound teams and even helicopters looking for the boy.

Unfortunately, bad weather and a lack of leads meant it was impossible to find Etan.

The unusual and frightening case quickly attracted attention across the country, becoming a national obsession as parents across America wondered "what happened to Etan?"

Keep reading to learn the stunning truth behind his disappearance.

After years without any news, Etan and a few other high profile missing child cases - including Adam Walsh, son of America's Most Wanted host John Walsh - inspired Ronald Reagan's government to create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Neve Walsh, founder of NCMEC, with husband John Walsh and President ReaganNational Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Before the center was created, there was no cross-country organization or program to track down missing kids. Some of their innovations include the national missing children hotline and the idea of putting "missing child" posters on milk cartons.

In the first year, the milk carton images helped track down 62% of the children featured, but not Etan.

While the Patz family waited for any news, America stayed obsessed with the mystery of Etan's case.

There was even a movie based on the disappearance: Without a Trace, starring Judd Hirsch.

Even when the police declared Etan as dead in 2001, his family still hoped for justice. Their prayers weren't answered until 2012, a day before the 33rd anniversary of Etan's disappearance, when the NYPD finally arrested a suspect.

Pablo Hernandez worked at a corner store in Etan's neighborhood when he went missing in 1979. Over the years, he supposedly admitted to killing Etan to a number of friends and family members before his brother-in-law turned him in to the authorities.

He originally confessed to strangling Etan before hiding his body in a plastic bag and throwing it in the trash, but Hernandez's lawyers claim he's mentally ill, and his confession couldn't be used as evidence.

Pablo Hernandez (right).NY Daily News

In one final shock to the family, Hernandez's first trial deadlocked.

"I looked forward to the first trial because I thought that would be the end of it," Etan's father Stan said about the result.

"It provided answers for me and I thought it would be the end of interviews, crazy phone calls, people showing up with their crazy theories. We really want to get this thing behind us."

But the second trial has finally brought the Patzs's long nightmare to an end.

Julie and Stan PatzTaiwan News

In February, Hernandez was found guilty for Etan's murder.

The judge sentenced Hernandez to 25 years to life, meaning he'll need to serve the full 25 years before he gets a chance for parole.

While Etan's family suffered for decades, the boy's disappearance has changed the world for the better.

Today parents are aware of the dangers their children face, and with the help of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 92% of America's missing kids are recovered.

The anniversary of Etan's disappearance, May 25th, is even National Missing Children's day.

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