A Child is Missing | Leiby Kletsky
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana
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.
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.
© Copyright 2011 Tracy Lynn Conway with all rights reserved.
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