Seven-year-old Athena Strand of Paradise, Texas, was abducted near her home and murdered last week. It is horrible to even write those wrenching words.
Below is a post I put up after a different tragedy and travesty: the murder of Leiby Kletzky, here in New York City, in 2011. Sadly as well as defiantly, it holds true today:
Readers. It is with an actually, physically aching heart that I report to you the death of an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy, Leiby Kletzky, who disappeared from a short, solo walk yesterday and was later found in a dumpster. Here is the story.
I bring it up because it seems to prove that the incident that kicked off Free-Range Kids — my letting my 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone — was foolish, or worse. At the time I said that I felt this was a reasonable and safe thing to do, because I believed in my son, my city, and my own parenting. Despite the sorrow I feel even in my joints, I still do.
There are horrible people in the world. There always were, always will be. There were horrible people in the world even when we parents were growing up, and our own parents let us play outside and walk to school and visit our friends on our bikes. Our parents weren’t naive. They knew that we live in a fallen world. They also knew that they had a choice: Keep us locked inside for fear of a tragic, rare, worst-case-scenario, or teach us the basics — like never go off with a stranger — and then let us out. They let us out.
Today we are faced with a worst-case scenario that could end up re-defining childhood as did the Etan Patz case 30 years ago. (A case that had no parallel in my city until today. ) That a stranger abduction like Leiby’s is rarer than death-by-lightning just doesn’t seem to matter at a time like this. But it does.
People will blame the parents for letting their son walk even a few blocks on his own. I’ve already read some of those comments. They are like knives. Is it better to have a city — a country, a world — where no child is ever outside again without an adult? Where parents who let their kids to walk to the bus stop are treated like pariahs? Where the parks are empty, the playgrounds are silent, bikes sit in the garage and children hunker inside with their terrified moms and dads?
It is really hard to even suggest that life continue on as normal, but that is what I truly believe is the only response to this crime. Not that we take it in stride — I think it will always hurt. But that we take it in context. Saying that my city’s crime rate is down to the lowest it has been since 1961 seems ridiculous at a time like this. [Update: Here are stats on NYC’s murder rate today. Still down from the ’80s and ’90s.] But it is down, and to act as if every block is full of darkness means — to borrow a phrase from terrorism — the darkness has won.
I’m shaken. I’m sad. I’m so sorry for what has happened. And I will send my sons out again.