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Break In ’79 Disappearance In NY Gives Hope To Families Of Missing In Illinois

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The investigation of a New Jersey man who has implicated himself in the disappearance and death of a 6-year-old boy 33 years ago in New York City has offered a measure of hope to families of missing children in Illinois.

Pedro Hernandez, of Camden, N.J., has implicated himself in the death of Etan Patz in 1979, according to CBS New York.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday authorities “have a suspect in custody who has made a statement to the NYPD implicating himself.”
Friday will mark the 33rd anniversary of Patz’s disappearance.

WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports the development in the Patz case offers hope to the loved ones of missing children across the country, including Illinois.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists 114 Illinois children who remain missing, years after they disappeared.

Among the high-profile cases are sisters Diamond and Tionda Bradley, who vanished almost 11 years ago; Yasmin Acree, missing for over four years; and Rachel Mellon, a 13-year-old Bolingbrook girl who disappeared in 1996.

“Not knowing what happened to Rachel is still the hardest part,” said her father, Jeff Skemp.

Skemp said he knows his daughter is probably dead, but he just wants to bring her home for a proper burial.

Chicago Police Det. Dave Schultz is permanently assigned to the Cook County morgue to identify John and Jane Does who are brought in. He said he sometimes gets calls from the families of missing persons.

“You could just hear the pain in their voice when they’re saying that we’ve been looking for our loved one,” Schultz said.

Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Steve Loan, who oversees cold case investigations, said families should never give up hope for a possible resolution.

“There are constantly breakthroughs with technology in the area of forensics, and each time a new applicable tool comes up, we review all these cases,” he said.

Hernandez worked in the neighborhood where Patz lived in 1979, according to law enforcement sources.

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller said Hernandez was not considered a major suspect when Patz went missing, but a tip recently came in pointing to Hernandez, and when investigators spoke to him, he began revealing details of Patz’s disappearance.

Hernandez is said to have told authorities that he lured Patz into the shop where he worked in 1979 – just blocks from the boy’s home – and killed him, according to Miller.

The little boy was last seen walking to a school bus on May 25, 1979. Patz’s parents let him walk to the bus alone for the first time that morning and he was never seen again.

The case prompted huge changes in the way missing children cases were handled across the nation. Patz was also the first missing child whose picture appeared on the back of a milk carton.