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Confession in case of Etan Patz brings hope, tears to families of the missing

After 33 years, someone has confessed to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz. And people immediately start speaking of “closure.”

Patty Wetterling hates the word.

Since 1989, she and her husband have writhed in the same hell as Stan and Julie Patz. Whatever path they might have been on, it was irrevocably altered that October evening when a masked man walked away with their 11-year-old boy, Jacob.

“Once you're a victim of a crime like this, your life takes a very different direction,” the St. Joseph, Minnesota, woman says. “It doesn't really close anything, because everything just became different from that point on. But it does provide answers.”

Thanks to the wonders of modern computer graphics, these parents can watch their children “age” — digitally, at least. But no one can write a program capable of generating the milestones — high school graduation, college, marriage, parenthood — that come along with growing up.

Some, like Mike and Maddi Misheloff of Dublin, California, exist in a kind of suspended animation, unwilling to move or even redecorate the lost one's bedroom.

Many, like the Patzes, live with the “what ifs.” What if they hadn't given in to his “please,” hadn't let him make his first solo walk to the school bus stop that May day in 1979?

A few suffer under a cloud of suspicion themselves — like Judy Moore of Jackson, Kentucky, whose 6-year-old son, Kelly, disappeared in 1982 while playing in the snow.

Back when Etan vanished, authorities put the children's faces on milk cartons. Today, their names and images flash across the Internet and digital highway signs.

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