The New York City police commissioner said Thursday a person who's in custody has implicated himself in the death of Etan Patz, the 6-year-old boy whose disappearance 33 years ago on his way to school helped launch a missing children's movement that put kids' faces on milk cartons.
Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in a statement that further details would be released later Thursday.
Etan vanished on May 25, 1979, while walking alone to his school bus stop for the first time, two blocks from his home in New York's SoHo neighborhood.
There was an exhaustive search by the police and a crush of media attention. The boy's photo was one of the first of a missing child on a milk carton. Thousands of fliers were plastered around the city, buildings canvassed, hundreds of people interviewed. SoHo was not a neighborhood of swank boutiques and galleries as now, but of working-class New Yorkers rattled by the news.
The April excavation of a Manhattan basement yielded no obvious human remains and little forensic evidence that would help solve the decades-long mystery of what happened to the boy.
His parents, Stan and Julie Patz, were reluctant to move or even change their phone number in case their son tried to reach out. They still live in the same apartment, down the street from the building that was examined in April. They have endured decades of false leads, and a lack of hard evidence.
The family did not immediately return a message requesting comment.
Etan's disappearance touched off a massive search that has ebbed and flowed over the years. It also ushered in an era of anxiety about leaving children unsupervised.
In the past, the case seemed to have been largely focused on Jose Ramos, a convicted child molester, now serving time in Pennsylvania, who had been dating Etan's baby sitter at the time the boy disappeared. In 2000, authorities dug up Ramos' former basement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but nothing turned up.
Stan Patz had his son declared legally dead in 2001 so he could sue Ramos, who has never been charged criminally and denies harming the boy. A civil judge in 2004 found him to be responsible for Etan's death.
More recently, the focus had shifted to a 75-year-old Brooklyn resident, though he was not named a suspect and denied any involvement. In 1979, he was a handyman who had a workspace in the basement where the April excavation occurred.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.