As authorities began digging up a SoHo basement on Thursday to look for the remains of 6-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared 33 years ago, neighbors recalled the case that captivated their block and the city decades ago.
"I was in my 20s, just starting to work, thinking how heart-wrenching it was," Guy Muzzio told NBC New York, which first reported the break in the 1979 cold case.
"I remember the police knocking on my door: 'What happened, do you have any knowledge?'" recalled Sean Sweeney, now of the SoHo Community Alliance.
Patz disappeared after leaving his home on his way to the school bus stop on May 25, 1979.
Officials are searching the basement of a building on Prince Street, where they recently got an alert from a cadaver dog that they brought there after re-examining evidence in the case. The building is about about 200 feet from the one where Patz lived.
The search for Patz in 1979 was one of the most high-profile missing child cases in New York City history. President Ronald Reagan declared May 25 National Missing Child Day in his honor.
Two years ago, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said he was reopening the case, taking a fresh look at the evidence. The DA declined to specify at the time why the case was reopened.
"It's just amazing that it's not solved yet," said James Christie, a neighbor.
"I just remember always hearing about it, and whatever happened to him," said Meredith Sternberg. "It struck a chord."
FBI spokesman Tim Flannelly said the Patz family was notified before the search began.
"We're hoping that there will be real results," Flannelly said. "This little boy disappeared in 1979, and here we are in 2012 still hopeful that we can bring closure to the investigation."
Sweeney said he hopes the family gets some answers.
"They never gave up. They have to be commended," he said.
Patz was legally declared dead in 2001.
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