Boy’s Murder Causes Parents to Confront Their Worst Nightmare
They are the road rules of parenting, the self-defense tips of childhood, the maxims passed down for generations: Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t sit in the last car of the subway train. If you are lost, look for someone in a uniform. If something bad happens, scream!
Every day, parents put their faith in those rules and send their children, with a silent prayer, off into the world, trying to push away the knowledge that something bad could happen, as if thinking it would make it come true.
On Wednesday, it did come true for one Brooklyn family, as the body of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was found dismembered two days after he disappeared on a short walk between his day camp and where he was supposed to meet his parents. The boy, who had implored his parents for permission to walk home from camp alone, got lost and ran into a stranger who, the police said, kidnapped and killed him.
For parents across New York City, the tragedy set off a wave of fear, self-doubt and sometimes fatalism, not seen perhaps for 32 years, since Etan Patz, who was 6, vanished after begging to be allowed to walk alone to the bus stop, just two blocks from his home in SoHo.
The rules of parenting suddenly seemed flimsy, and the world became a scarier place, despite the relatively low crime rate.
“It hasn’t happened for a long time,” said Leslie Wolf-Creutzfeldt, a mother of two on the Upper West Side. “One feels kind of safe about the city, because there are so many people around. But if it happens to be a crazy person, then you realize, maybe, there’s nothing you can do.”
Parents tried to banish the unseemly relief that it was not their child who was taken. Some, if only because it was too painful to imagine otherwise, expressed the wishful conviction that they, through some marvel of judgment or technology, would navigate the minefields of parenting better.