Stanley K. Patz/AP
Stephen M. Silverman
May 24, 2012 10:45 AM

The long-awaited breakthrough?

“An individual now in custody has made statements to N.Y.P.D. detectives implicating himself in the disappearance and death of Etan Patz 33 years ago,” New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, in a statement, said early Thursday, in reference to the unsolved case of the 6-year-old boy who went missing on his way to school in Lower Manhattan in 1979. It is believed that Patz was murdered.

Kelly said further details would be forthcoming, reports The New York Times, which by midday Thursday said that the individual – identified as Pedro Hernandez – had confessed to the murder.

The newspaper also says Hernandez was apprehended in New Jersey late Wednesday and, after lengthy questioning, brought to the office of the Manhattan District Attorney, which is overseeing the inquiry by the NYPD and the FBI.

The New York Post, also citing police sources, reports that Hernandez said during questioning Wednesday that he had lured the child with candy, killed him and disposed of the remains.

The Times source says Hernandez confessed to strangling Etan, placing his body in a plastic bag then in a box, only to return to the scene several days later to find the box missing.

Police, reports The Times, recently have taken Hernandez back to that spot he claims he had left the body.

In April, a glimmer of hope in solving the case emerged when authorities re-launched a search, tearing out drywall and shelves from the basement of a commercial building near the bus stop where Etan was believed to have been headed.

“We’re looking for human remains, clothing or other personal effects of Etan Patz,” a police spokesman said at the time. “It’s a very painstaking process.”

But the search yielded “no obvious human remains,” police said afterward – although, according to the Post, it was because of publicity about the case in April that a relative of Hernandez contacted authorities. Hernandez had reportedly once told family members that he had killed a child, although he never specified it was Etan.

In 1979, the basement had housed a workshop and was along the route Etan used to go to the bus the day he disappeared – which was also first day his parents, Stan and Julie Patz, who still live in the same SoHo neighborhood apartment, allowed their son to go to school on his own.

Coincidentally, Friday will mark the anniversary of President Reagan’s naming May 25 – the day Etan vanished on his way to a New York bus stop – National Missing Children’s Day. Etan was the first missing child to appear on a milk carton, and a national campaign was launched.

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