Stanley Patz has been conditioned to expect his telephone to ring whenever a child goes missing, so he was bracing when he heard about the disappearance of an 8-year-old boy, Leiby Kletzky, last week in Brooklyn.
Yet this time, Mr. Patz, whose 6-year-old son, Etan, vanished off a Manhattan street in 1979, responded with an idea to help head off more kidnappings. After brooding over Leiby’s murder for a few days, Mr. Patz wondered, why not put a basic, emergency cellphone in the hands of every child? At the press of a button, children who are lost or in danger could dial 911, Mr. Patz reasoned.
And, if the phones had global-positioning chips in them, they could help authorities track a child’s whereabouts.
Perhaps, he added, it would be known as a “Leiby phone.”
“This little boy, even though he had rehearsed the route with his mother, he didn’t make the correct turn, then he realized he was lost and had to ask for directions,” Mr. Patz. “If he had this cellphone on his person, he could have called his mother.”
He thinks it would be feasible for cellphone manufacturers and service providers to make simple, potentially life-saving phones available free, possibly as part of family calling plans, he said in an interview on Saturday.
Mr. Patz conceded that he had not discussed his idea with anybody in the telephone business and had no estimate of what his plan might cost.
The concept of a stripped-down phone intended as a lifeline for young children has been tried before. Firefly Mobile, an eight-year-old company, has been marketing basic phones for children for several years. For a while, its products were available through Cingular Wireless, a provider that was acquired by AT&T, but they were not free. Representatives of Firefly and AT&T could not be reached over the weekend for comment.
But for his part, Mr. Patz was gripped by the belief that there was a way that modern technology could reduce the chances that more parents would suffer the way that he and the Kletzkys have.
“Every time a kid goes missing, reporters often call me up and say, ‘What’s your reaction?’ This time, I have a legitimate reaction,” Mr. Patz said.