Soho residents angry over Patz murder media blitz
By Paul Bisceglio
Local media went into a frenzy last week when 51-year-old New Jersey man Pedro Hernandez confessed to killing Etan Patz, a 6-year-old Soho resident who went missing on his way to the bus on May 25, 1979.
The disappearance made national headlines 33 years ago, largely thanks to the Patz family’s tenacious circulation of Patz’s pictures to media outlets. Last week, however, the family wanted little to do with the barrage of reporters, photographers and cameramen who piled out of news vans in front of their home at the intersection of Prince and Wooster streets.
“I wish this could end,” Patz’s mother, Julie, told a crowd of press on Monday morning, according to The Daily News. “This is taking my freedom away. I just wish this could be over.”
The family’s relationship with media soured as reporters continued to hound them for information throughout the day, approaching them on the street for quotes and rushing after them for pictures whenever they stepped out of their home.
Patz’s father, Stan, posted the following note outside the family’s door: “To all media people hanging around here: You have managed to make a difficult situation even worse. Talk to your assignment editors. It is past time for you to leave me, my family and my neighbors alone.”
Undaunted, the media stuck around the house until last Thursday, packed with laptops and recording equipment in vans and cars that lined Prince Street from Wooster to West Broadway, where a small memorial of flowers and candles marked Patz’s bus stop.
The Soho community did not make the media’s stay easy. The Patz family’s pleas incited antagonism between locals and journalists.
“They hate us,” one berated reporter said, citing multiple incidents of verbal abuse directed at reporters, photographers and media crews around the scene—even an attempted attack with a wheelchair. When the reporter told one resident that he was there to write about the murder, for instance, the resident responded, “I hope when you go to bed tonight you’re a real stressed motherf—er.”
Many community members happily affirmed their discontent with the media’s continued presence. Jaime Gutierrez, founder of the blog sohonyc.com, said that after so long, the Soho community was ready to let the story go, and that the journalists were scaring away tourists. Another resident said that the reporters should “get real jobs” and leave the family at peace. A young artist street vendor was blunt: “They’re f—ing goons.”
Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance and resident of the community since the mid-1970s, thinks the neighborhood’s longtime members are more resigned to media blitzes. “We roll our eyes and say, ‘We’ve been through this before,’” he said. Nonetheless, he called the reporters’ persistent efforts a “zoo” and argued that the media had crossed the point where press becomes “malevolent” and “paparazzi.”
“Leave them alone,” he said. “They’ve suffered enough.”
“I feel a bit like a goon,” one photographer admitted when told about the street vendor’s charge. He agreed that the coverage was excessive, and frowned upon some reporters’ invasive tactics—shadowing family members on the streets, badgering them for quotes, peering into windows. However, he emphasized that the choice was out of his hands. He had been told where to be and was just doing his job.
Other journalists were more defensive about their importance to the community. One reporter noted that a strong media presence pressures police to resolve the case and give the Patz family the answers they deserve.
A photographer argued that journalists play a role in promoting national awareness of childhood disappearances and abductions. Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, was quoted last week as saying that, with news of the renewed investigation spreading, “We have seen a huge increase in interest and calls—but I think the most positive and important result is that we are hearing from many parents of long-term missing children. It has given them hope.”
Another reporter mentioned that journalists were providing details that many Soho community members wanted to hear. Murray Weiss, DNAinfo columnist and criminal justice editor, told WNYC last week that the FBI is still skeptical about the confession of Hernandez, who is schizophrenic, bipolar and has a history of hallucinations, and rumors in the community persist that some members of the police and the district attorney’s office doubt the credibility of his case. Longtime Soho residents have been exchanging emails weighing the evidence of Hernandez’s guilt, and some remain unconvinced.
More than anything, though, the journalists were bored—and hot. Stuck in cars for hours in 90-degree heat, frustrated that they would be in the same place tomorrow and simply waiting for something to happen, most were as eager as the Patz family to put the story to rest.
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