A Child is Missing | Leiby Kletsky

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana

Borough Park, Brooklyn, NYC
Borough Park, Brooklyn, NYC
Leiby Kletzky at a younger age. The Kletzky family has set up a memorial fund to keep Leiby's memory alive by helping others.
Leiby Kletzky at a younger age. The Kletzky family has set up a memorial fund to keep Leiby's memory alive by helping others.

As a parent of four children, I factor in the balance between safety and independence on a daily basis. I have encouraged my children to take a walk on our street in groups and come back at a designated time. They usually head out with a cell phone, but my heart skips a different kind of beat each time I permit a new trial of independence.

Hearing about Leiby Kletsky, the 8 year old boy from Brooklyn, NYC, who was taking his first independent walk home from a day of camp on July 11, 2011 and what resulted from this walk when he forgot to make a turn, sends chills up and down my spine. I wonder if the chills will ever cease. As a parent, I not only feel compassion for my own children but for all children. When Leiby happened to ask a man for directions, this man lured him into his car and the next day killed him, dismembered his body and kept some of the parts in his freezer while the other parts were tossed into a dumpster. The death of Leiby is not in vain though; this murderer is now off the streets unable to commit more heinous crimes.

Since hearing of this tragedy, I can think of little else. If our children aren’t safe then there is little hope for our future.


The garden apartments that I used to walk behind as a shortcut to P.S. 169 in Queens
The garden apartments that I used to walk behind as a shortcut to P.S. 169 in Queens

I grew up in Queens, NYC in the 1970’s and walked to school myself. At first I walked along with my older brother and later was able to take the walk on my own. I remember how scary it was when I first walked it alone. I must have been Leiby’s age, my walk involved a shortcut on a path behind a row of Garden apartments and I remember step by step making sure that I went along the exact route that my brother had taken me. I now try to imagine the steps that Leiby took and how he tried to be careful as well. I watch the video surveillance cameras that reveal the walk Leiby took during his final hours of life and a window into the past that will remain frozen forever in my mind. His innocence radiates even though only his back is visible. Watching this image makes me cry. The innocence of childhood is precious.

Leiby’s parents had faith in their child and their community and this should never be frowned upon. These parents exercised their best judgment, but fate had other plans. The days of children walking anywhere without serious consideration by their parents, was taken away back in NYC in 1979 when Etan Patz was abducted while walking to catch a bus to school. His fate was eerily similar to Leiby’s. Etan was molested, killed and mutilated. He was 6 years old at the time and parenting hasn’t been the same since. Because of this tragedy, laws where enacted to protect children; milk cartons where printed with photos of missing children and the term “play date” came about. Childhood would never be the same again.

While I spent most of my childhood outdoors with friends that lived on the block and came home for dinner and bedtime, children today have scheduled existences and with each of these tragedies that we hear about in the news, it only serves to make it worse (or better, depending on how you look at it.)

If we look to the fairy tales of “Hansel and Gretel”, where Hansel was to be eaten by a witch and “Little Red Ridding Hood”, where the girl is thought of as a tasty treat for a “wolf”, we can see that historically these realities of childhood have always existed as part of our human psyche. Nonetheless, it makes the tragedy no less painful to bare. The possibility of a kidnapper, molestor and/or murderer preying on children will always exist it seems.

I will continue to consider and reconsider my children’s “freedoms”. I hate that my children cannot experience the world as their oyster the way I did, or the way Leiby, Etan or any of the 2,000 children that are abducted each day had before their idyllic childhoods ended.

NYC Mayor Bloomberg claims that the occurrences of stranger abductions are rare, but I am not sure if at this point the statistics of abductions work to change the fears in our minds. Each day travelers in airports go through more and more security checks for the “rare” possibility of a bomb or other danger. I think that all parents would agree that even just “one” abduction is enough to avoid the possibility of their child disappearing forever.

Source

© Copyright 2011 Tracy Lynn Conway with all rights reserved.

The day of Etan Patz's disappearance, May 25, has been designated National Missing Children's Day.
The day of Etan Patz's disappearance, May 25, has been designated National Missing Children's Day.

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Comments 11 comments

vissitor profile image

vissitor 5 years ago from Sonoma Valley, California

A moving and cautionary tale, Tracy. As a parent, it is our worst nightmare. Thank you for this essay and bringing this tragedy to our attention in a sensitive and informed manner.


Wolfyone profile image

Wolfyone 5 years ago from Central Maine

I too grew up in Queens in the 70's and was free to play and roam the neighborhood in safety. By the time I had a child though I was afraid to let her have the same freedoms I did as a child. It is indeed a sad commentary on our society today that we must choose to protect our children by curtailing much of their freedom.


fashion 5 years ago

Great hub.


Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy Lynn Conway 5 years ago from Virginia, USA Author

@vissitor - Thank you, it is sad essay to write.

@Wolfyone - It seems strange to raise children with such a different set of rules and therefore life experiences than the ones we had growing up due to this reality. It is nice to hear a similar experience. It makes me think of something Maya Angelou once said "When we know better, we do better." Thanks for commenting!

@fashion - Thank you!


Wolfyone profile image

Wolfyone 5 years ago from Central Maine

I've often thought about how much the world has changed from when I was a child. I would be out playing with the other kids, coming home only to eat and for bathroom breaks. My parents never had to worry about me being snatched off the street. I've often reflected on how sad it is that our kids can't safely know that kind of freedom. I had a real childhood. My daughter had less of one by virtue of the world she was growing up in.


greatlove profile image

greatlove 5 years ago from Beaufort, NC

Great essay...violence has always plagued our society. Just today we are more aware of it d/t information traveling faster and easier to report.


Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy Lynn Conway 5 years ago from Virginia, USA Author

@Wolfyone - It would be nice to think that the world has only gotten worse so that there would be the possibility of returning to a safer place and time. As with the portrayal in folk lore, these types of predators have always existed. When we were growing up in Queens it seems that we were simply ignorant of these kinds of dangers. The incidence of these types of abductions have in fact decreased. The conclusion is that we are just more aware. The F.B.I. handled 93 cases of stranger abductions cases in 2001 and in the 1980's the average hovered 200 incidents a year.

@ greatlove - Thank you! You are right on, we are just more aware.


ubanichijioke profile image

ubanichijioke 5 years ago from Lagos

Such a sad, tearful and horrific story. I just pray that such news will become odd and measures at preventing such re-occurrence be put in place. Thanks for the info. Be blessed


Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy Lynn Conway 5 years ago from Virginia, USA Author

@Ubani - Measures like media alerts about the occurrence of an abduction are being used in more and more countries, also parents and caregivers are more aware of the possibility of these kinds of crimes. At the same time, it only takes one awful incident like the death of Leiby Kletsky to leave an awful feeling in the hearts of all of us. I agree with you in wishing that things like this never existed and were not part of the human experience. Thank you!


Rachelle Williams profile image

Rachelle Williams 5 years ago from Tempe, AZ

This has got to be a parent's worst nightmare - I know I used to be terrified of someone snatching my babes (they're grown now), so I was a bit overprotective. I too wish that stories like that of Leiby Kletsky were not a part of the human experience. God Bless his tiny soul.


Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy Lynn Conway 5 years ago from Virginia, USA Author

Rachelle, I started off wanting my children to have more freedoms, similar to the way I grew up, but over time became more and more careful. I can understand your inclination to be overprotective.

All parents do share the pain of this and other similar tragedies and wish the nightmare never came true. Thank you for your comment.

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