Dabbing her eyes and speaking in a quavering voice, Etan Patz's mother testified Monday at the trial of the man accused of killing her son that Etan was a "trusting" 6-year-old clutching $1 for a treat when she sent him off to catch a school bus 35 years ago.
"I told him to go straight to the bodega and get his drink quickly so he wouldn't miss his bus," Julie Patz told jurors at the trial of Pedro Hernandez. " . . . He was looking for traffic when I turned around to go back upstairs. That's the last point where I saw him."
Julie Patz's dramatic appearance in Manhattan Supreme Court and gripping description of her last hours with her son was filled with moments of fresh grief -- "This is not easy," she said as she wiped away tears -- and reflections on how the unsolved mystery of Etan's fate shaped the lives of her family.
"Every time we would try to go on with our lives, it would come back," said Patz, who has two other children. " . . . It's been very, very hard."
Hernandez, 53, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, was a bodega worker in Patz's SoHo neighborhood at the time of the 1979 disappearance. He confessed in 2012 to luring the boy into the store's basement with an offer of a soda and then he strangled the boy. His lawyer says the confession was the product of police pressure and a mental disorder.
Julie Patz, now a 72-year-old with her gray hair in a ponytail and a worn face missing some front teeth, said that in 1979 she and her photographer husband Stan lived in a third-floor loft on Prince Street. They still live at the same address with the same phone number.
She said her blond son, small for his age, was undiscriminating about people. "He was totally outgoing and trusting of everyone," she said. "Totally nonjudgmental about people. Everyone he met once was his friend."
She had a scare the day before the May 25 disappearance, she said, when she lost track of Etan playing outside. He had gone around the block on his Big Wheel tricycle. When he got back, she chastised him, and he became upset.
The next morning, Etan lobbied hard to walk to the bus alone for the first time, his mother testified. She was busy at a neighborhood day care business she ran in the loft, she said, and it was something his sister, 8, who took a different bus, was allowed to do.
"He was insisting he was very grown up and he could take the money he had earned to buy his own drink," she recalled. "I capitulated."
He left just before 8 a.m. on a Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, she said. He carried a blue bag with a white elephant design filled with Matchbox cars, a little pencil box and some lunch, and squeezing the dollar bill in his left hand.
The bodega, run by a friendly man named Juan, was not a worry, Patz said, although she did not share the view of some neighborhood parents that it was a place to run in an emergency.
"It was a very small space, very dark space, poorly stocked, not a very welcoming place," she said.
Etan was supposed to be home by 3:30 p.m. But by 3:40, she was worried, made a call, and learned from a first-grade classmate that he never made the bus and was absent. From there, things became a blur.
"I don't remember a thing about that night or the next day," she said. " . . . Very rubbery legs, upset stomach, difficulty walking, thinking, talking."
Weeks later, Etan still not found, she recalled deciding to become a parent again, and went out to play with her other children. But people looked at her differently, she said, and some said her behavior was callous, proof she was responsible for her son's murder.
Over the years, Patz said, as she became a public figure, working with Congress to establish legislation on missing children, her life never was the same. There were men who showed up claiming to be her long lost son, calls from others claiming to be the kidnappers, psychics.
She called it a circus. Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon asked if anything led to Etan.
"No," answered Patz.