A 6-year-old boy vanishes in broad daylight while doing something so routine as walking to his school bus stop. Pictures of this smiling, angelic child reinforced the horror. As a new mother, I tried to imagine what his mother and his father were feeling. I thought about how I would be bargaining with God and how, despite my best efforts, I would be going through the “what ifs.” I hoped for the happy ending that became more unlikely with each day and week. And eventually years.

In 1981, when another smiling, angelic boy named Adam Walsh similarly vanished while on a mundane shopping trip with his mother, there were the inevitable comparisons to Etan Patz. This time, though, the family was provided with an answer — a horrible one — when the boy’s severed head was found in a Florida canal. Thinking of the two families, I had to wonder what was worse: knowing or not knowing?

Etan Patz (REUTERS)

There are, of course, still questions to be answered as to whether the 51-year-old man who confessed to the crime is telling the truth. Pedro Hernandez, according to the New York Times, told police he lured Etan to the basement of a bodega with the promise of soda, choked him and stuffed his body in a bag that he left out in the open with trash. Supposedly, when he later returned, the boy’s body was gone.

Like Mayor Bloomberg, I hope this long-sought development brings some relief to Etan’s parents. I feel that I owe them some debt because their loss — like that of Adam’s family — helped to make society more aware of the dangers to young children and improve how authorities react.