May 25 is National Missing Children’s Day, in memory of Etan Patz’s birthday. Patz was abducted in 1979, and was the first missing child whose photo was circulated on a milk carton. The disappearance of Etan Patz, 6, which may now be solved, became one of the most famous missing child cases of the 20th century.
Between 1979 and 1981 the nation’s attention shifted to Atlanta, Georgia, when the bodies of children, 29 in all, were found along roadsides, and in lakes, marshes and ponds. Wayne Williams was arrested and convicted in what became known as the Atlanta Child Murders, though many question investigative techniques of the time, as well as William’s guilt. Some experts believe there were multiple serial killers at work during that time in Atlanta. In 1981 Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh, now host of T.V.’s America’s Most Wanted, was abducted from a shopping mall in Florida. At the time, no coordinated system of alerts or searches existed on a state or national level, and there was no national organization to advocate for the family, or to help coordinate with law enforcement and the press. The case was officially closed on December 15, 2008, and Adam’s murder attributed to serial killer Otis Toole, who confessed to the murder and later recanted before dying in prison in 1996.
A recent case that captured national attention is that of missing/endangered toddler Ayla Reynolds who disappeared on December 16, 2011, and for whom the search continues, even as media coverage and public interest wane.
In the United States alone, an astounding 2,300 people are reported missing every day, both adults and children. Many are quickly found, others, like Jaycee Dugard, who was snatched in 1991, are found many years later, and yet others, like Etan and Adam, may never come home at all.