Etan Patz is Not Alone: 15 Missing Child Cases in NYC Remain Unsolved
NEW YORK — Just shy of his second birthday, Shane Anthony Walker was playing on a swing in a Harlem playground when two older children asked his mom if they could push him.
Rosa Glover took a seat on a bench at the 112th Street and Lenox Avenue park. She chatted briefly to a man sitting next to her and, when she turned back to watch her son, he was gone.
That was on Aug. 10, 1989. Shane has still not been found.
Since 1979 — the year the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz rocked New York City — there have been 15 children under the age of 12 who have gone missing under mysterious circumstances in the city and have never been found, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Shane is one of them.
"[The police] keep telling me the case will never close, but that’s not helping me find my son," said Glover, 59, who broke down into sobs last week as she talked about Shane, who would turn 25 this year.
"He’s still out there," she wept. "I want my son."
Thousands of children go missing in New York City every year. In 2010 alone, 6,544 children were reported missing in all five boroughs, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
But the vast majority — about 98 percent — of those cases were listed as runaways. Roughly 121 cases involved children abducted by family members, and only 11 kids were reported missing for other, sometimes unknown, reasons.
That makes mysterious disappearances like Shane’s and Etan’s — children lost without a trace in an instant — as rare as they are terrifying.
Etan was enjoying his first taste of independence, after his mother allowed him to walk to the bus stop alone from his SoHo home for the first time. He never returned.
A few months before Shane's disappearance, 2-year-old Christopher Milton Dansby was snatched from the same Harlem playground. He, too, has never been found.
On Oct. 10, 1991, Tiffany Madia Dixon, 12, disappeared after dropping her younger brother off at school in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
Patrick Kennedy Alford, 7, went missing after taking the trash out from his foster home in East New York on Jan. 22, 2010. He never came back inside.
Tiahease Jackson, 10, vanished on Aug. 14, 1983, after she left her home on Staten Island to buy chicken wings for a neighbor. According to reports, police believe she may have fallen prey to Andre Rand, a convicted kidnapper and sexual offender who hunted for victims on the streets of Staten Island in the 1970s and '80s. But no one has ever proved it.
Marlene Santana was just three days old when her mother was held up at gunpoint outside Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn on Oct. 21, 1985. The woman with the gun snatched the child from her mother’s arms and sped off in a car. The Santana family hasn't seen their baby girl since.
These cases, some decades cold, may seem hopeless, but new leads do arise, said Robert Lowery, executive director of the missing children division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The case of Etan Patz, for example, received a flurry of interest and action last month as NYPD officers and FBI agents ripped up the basement of a building on Prince Street in what was ultimately an unsuccessful search for his remains.
"The fact that this search went under way after 33 years also demonstrates that no one gives up on these missing children, no matter how long they're gone," Lowery explained. "We are resolving these long-term cases."
Lowery also pointed to the recent case of Carlina White, the baby who was snatched from Harlem Hospital 19 days after she was born. Twenty-four years later, White figured out that the only parents she’d ever known were, in fact, her kidnappers.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintains an extensive database of missing children’s photos and has a staff of four artists whose sole job is to create digitally enhanced images depicting what those children might look like today.
That technology, along with the widespread exposure of the Internet and the creation of the AMBER Alert notification system, has increased the recovery rate for missing children from 62 percent when the center was founded in 1984, to 97 percent now, Lowery said.
"We’ve gotten much, much better in how we’re handling, finding and recovering children than we ever had," he added.
Robert Louden, a criminal justice professor at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J., spent 21 years in the NYPD and worked on the Etan Patz case at several points during his career.
"A lot has happened since [that] event," Louden said. "I think the biggest changes have to do with the more ready availability of resources."
The sexual offender registry, for instance, provides a valuable resource for officers, and the city's ubiquitous security cameras allow cops to access images from streets all over New York, he explained.
"You can fine tune a procedure to make sure you’ve got all the bases covered," he added. "But when you back that up with databases, with technology, with K-9 [dogs], that really assists much sooner with being able to conduct as thorough a search as possible."
What has not changed over the years, Louden added, is that cases involving children have a tendency to inspire cops to work harder.
"It’s not because it’s a number for CompStat; it’s because it’s the right thing to do," he said. "The worst thing in life is for a parent to lose a child."
Rosa Glover said things may have turned out differently for Shane if the technology available now had been around back then. With few other options available, Glover said she appeared on Montel Williams’ talk show soon after Shane went missing.
On air, she spoke with the psychic Sylvia Browne about her son, hoping for clues. Instead, Browne told her that Shane was being well cared for, wherever he was, and that he was learning to play the piano.
"It’s no relief," Glover said. "How can it be some relief when I don’t have my son?"
Glover never had any other children after Shane disappeared. She said she couldn’t bear the thought. But the hope of recovering Shane is enough to keep her going, even now as she battles breast cancer for the second time.
"I’m still missing him," she said. "I pray every night that, one day, I’ll see him before I die."