The photo of Etan Patz looked innocently at us from the news pages last week, as it has sporadically since the child’s disappearance in 1979. He will always be 6 years old.

A generation of children looked at that picture on milk cartons and television and were traumatized, knowing that they too could suffer the kind of abduction and murder that must have befallen the Manhattan first-grader, who was walking to the bus stop on his own for the very first time.

These kids have grown up and had children of their own, and shuddered imagining how they would feel if their child suddenly disappeared. This case and cases like it have changed law enforcement, school procedures, the way neighbors look at each other and even the way parents interact with their children.

So, it’s with some relief that we hear that, finally, police have a suspect in custody. Pedro Hernandez, who once worked in Patz’s neighborhood, has apparently made an unsolicited confession to the little boy’s murder.

But even this news doesn’t provide much relief. We’ve been here before.

Just six years ago, we read a headline that a suspect was in custody in the murder of another child, JonBenet Ramsey, and he also made a full confession. After John Mark Karr met with detectives, however, the confession turned out to be false, and Karr was considered a suspect no more.

This is not new. More than 200 people confessed to kidnapping and killing the son of aviator Charles Lindbergh, and all of those confessions were false.

Just last year and closer to home, a murder case against a Hiram man collapsed when his confession proved to be false. Robert Copley Jr., who reportedly suffered from mental illness, twice confessed to killing Frances Moulton before a police investigation concluded that it was not truthful.

Confessions are no more or less credible than any other statement, and police have to match them up to the evidence, just as they would with an alibi.

Hernandez’s confession will have to be subject to rigorous checking, and with the passage of so many years and with so little physical evidence, police may never be able to determine if his story is true. It is doubtful that even this break in the case will bring peace to Patz’s family, or to the generations of children who have wondered if they are going to disappear one day.

A report of a confession is a welcome break in the case, but it is far from over.