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Jackhammers used in search for long-missing NYC child

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Debris was carefully removed in Manhattan on Friday after a basement floor was excavated in the search for Etan Patz.

NEW YORK - Investigators ripped up the basement floor of a Manhattan building Friday in a hunt for the remains of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who disappeared on his way to school in 1979.

Utility workers with jackhammers and saws helped chip away an area around aging pipes, then law enforcement officials wearing workmen’s gloves carried out the basketball-size chunks of rubble and carefully placed them in bins. The material will be sifted and then taken elsewhere for testing.

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The space being excavated was about a block from the bus stop where Etan was headed when he vanished. It is one of the few secluded places, easily accessible from the street, that sat along his two-block walk to the bus from his home.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly confirmed Friday that investigators made the decision to dig after an FBI dog detected the scent of human remains in the basement space.

In 1979, part of the basement was being used as a workshop by Othniel Miller, a neighborhood handyman who had been friendly with the family.

Police and FBI officials have not named a suspect in the case.

Miller, now 75 and living in Brooklyn, has not spoken publicly about the investigation. His lawyer, Michael Farkas, told journalists gathered outside Miller’s home that his client was cooperating with investigators and had “no involvement in this tragic event.’’

Etan’s disappearance drew national attention and was one of a number of shocking missing-child cases in the period that made parents wary about sending their children out alone.

“The story really resonated and touched millions of moms and dads,’’ said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children. Etan’s face appeared on milk cartons, and the boy’s thick blond locks and goofy grin tugged at the public’s heartstrings.

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