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Child's grisly murder shocks Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood
The scene on Wednesday in front of the residence where Leiby Kletzky lived.
July 14th, 2011
04:53 PM ET

Child's grisly murder shocks Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood

By Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, CNN

Brooklyn, New York (CNN) – An 8-year-old's grisly murder would shock any community, but there's an added layer of astonishment in this neighborhood because the alleged killer appears to hail from the same close-knit religious community as the victim.

On Thursday, New York police charged a 35-year-old man with the killing of Leiby Kletzky, an Orthodox Jewish boy, after officers found human remains in the man's refrigerator and a trash bin.

The alleged killer also appears to be an Orthodox Jew who lived relatively nearby to Kletzky, according to community members.

"You can't possibly describe how tragic this is and how upset people are this boy was murdered by a person living in the community, who shares his religion and his neighborhood," said Ezra Friedlander, who lives in Borough Park, the neighborhood where Kletzky went missing on Monday.

On Thursday, Levi Aron was arraigned on first degree murder and kidnapping charges in Brooklyn in connection with Kletzky's death.

"It would have been extremely scary if a terrorist would have come into the community and killed a boy, but when it's one of your own you feel even more vulnerable," said Friedlander, a public relations executive who represents many Orthodox Jewish clients.

"The level of fear that mothers and fathers and children here are experiencing is something that I never witnessed before," he said.

Police say the 35-year-old Levi Aron made statements Wednesday implicating himself in the death of Leiby Kletzky.

Kletzky was supposed to meet his parents after walking seven blocks from his summer day camp, but became lost and asked the suspect for directions, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Menachem Freed, a 37-year-old Orthodox Jew whose 9-year-old son was Kletzky's classmate, said the community prides itself on its faith-based unity.

Borough Park is composed mostly of Hasidic Jews and non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews of Eastern European descent. Signs for everything from pediatricians' offices to a pizza parlor are in both Hebrew and English.

Families with young children are everywhere, with streams of women pushing strollers down sidewalks and bearded Hasidic men piloting minivans through narrow streets.

"We all believe in the same ideas," Freed said, standing outside his son's preschool, where he showed up Thursday to help children deal with the murder.

On Monday night, Freed and his family had joined with other Orthodox Jews from the neighborhood to search for Kletzky.

The neighborhood's Jewish security patrol force - called the shomrim - searched for the boy through the night.

Working from surveillance video that showed Aron entering a dentist's office Monday while Kletzky waited for him across the street for seven minutes, police arrived at Aron's residence at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday to ask about the boy's whereabouts.

The suspect pointed them to the kitchen, where blood was visible on the freezer handle. Inside the refrigerator was a cutting board with three blood-spattered carving knives, Kelly said.

"A lot of people were saying that they would think differently about what they would allow their children to do," said Josh Nathan-Kazis, a staff writer for the Jewish newspaper The Forward, who is covering neighborhood reaction to Kletzky's murder.

"When you're there, it feels like a small town: Everybody knows each other," said Nathan-Kazis, describing Borough Park. "The fact that the alleged perpetrator was more or less from the same community, it's like they don't know who to trust."

There are questions about how active Aron was in the Jewish community, but pictures of him that have surfaced show him in traditional Orthodox Jewish dress.

New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind said the largely insular Orthodox neighborhood bred a sense of trust among adults and children.

"Borough Park is a largely Hasidic, Orthodox neighborhood - most people have beards and side curls," he said. "Often kids will trust someone who looks like their father or looks like their friend or like their teachers and say, 'Oh, this guy must be safe."

"This is not the case, never should have been the case," he continued. "You've got to be very, very careful. You've got to teach your kids. You've got to talk to your kids."

A young father who was pushing two strollers with children in Borough Park on Thursday said his rabbis told him to explain to his children that such a murder only happens "once in 10 years or even once in a lifetime."

Like many Orthodox Jews interviewed here, the man declined to give his name.

Nathan-Kazis said that rumors had begun emerging in Borough Park's Orthodox community that portrayed Aron as something of an outsider.

One such rumor suggested that Aron is a Sephardic Jew - meaning of Spanish of North African descent - unlike most Borough Park Jews, who are Ashkenazi, or of Eastern European descent.

"You could see the community struggling with the fact that the suspect is Jewish and lived nearby and at the same time protect a sense of safety in the community," Nathan-Kazis said.

Thousands of Orthodox Jews turned out for Kletzky's funeral on Wednesday.

On Thursday, community members organized an effort to initiate a Torah scroll in Kletzky's name.

"It's an extremely lofty way to elevate someone's memory," Friedlander said of the scroll. "Not every person has a Torah in their name."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Judaism • New York • Uncategorized

soundoff (1,564 Responses)
  1. harford

    i love how the rumors are that this guy maybe a spanish or north african jew...lmbo...smh...ca'nt get past the fact that a jew of your same religion commit such a heinous...i got news for you folks....everyone.....BLACK,WHITE,SPANISH,JEWISH,MUSLIM IS CAPABLE OF HORROR.....DON'T GET IT TWISTED....THE BIBLE DECLARES TRUST NOT IN MAN, BUT IN THE WORDS THAT COME OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD...SO GO AHEAD RACISTS AND KEEP YOUR KIDS WITH PEOPLE WHO YOU "TRUST" IF YOU WANT TOO........SMH

    July 15, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Josi

      Agreed.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • KB

      I chuckled at the same "oh well, he's probably a DIFFERENT jew than us. north african or something, i dont know, but DEFINITELY not one of us. we arent like that."

      July 15, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Q

      @KB – I agree the expectation that outward displays of religiosity somehow renders a given individual inherently benevolent is laughable. But I also believe this is just simple human nature to try and segregate (by any label) in-group individuals into out-group members once they've committed some atrocity, e.g. in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, I seem to remember folks immediately assuming it must have been the act of some middle-eastern terrorist. We see it here on these threads all the time with various "No True Scotsman Fallacies" be it labels of "real Christian" or attempts to place someone along the semantically rich spectrum of metaphysical non-belief. Nonetheless, this is truly a tragedy. The extent to which a particular false sense of security may have contributed is clearly regrettable, but these false perceptions of security exist in various forms in various communities. It seems that every story of this abhorrent nature is accompanied by some quote like, "This kind of thing just doesn't happen here..."

      July 15, 2011 at 2:13 am |
  2. raberyleti

    I feel so bad for that child and this family. This is something they may never get over. But in more ways than one, this is their fault. Who allows an 8 year old to walk that far alone – regardless of how 'safe' the community is. Whoever allowed this, they made that baby a target.

    Secondly, how naive are you to think that your Jewish or rich, or quiet, or white or whatever neighborhood is any safer than anywhere else in this demon possessed country! Don't be so stupid, you aren't safe in your own home anymore! My 8 year old doesn't walk from the bus stop at the top of our cul de sac without someone standing in the yard watching as he gets off of the bus. And the bus stop is only 2 houses down from ours!! Again, don't be simple! We live in a time where anything can and has happened at any time, in any community and to anyone.

    July 15, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Devorah

      You really need to read more and find out more details and understand the type of community this boy grew up in. CNN barely reported this story and they have a very anti semitic reputation. Try reading more on nydailynews.com or more comments from other posters and you will understand. It's a tragedy and there's a bigger picture.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • generalizationsarebad

      Unless the community has force-field around it that screens out psychopaths, it is not safe. There is no true security anywhere on Earth. Tragedy can happen anywhere at any time to anyone. We should be horrified by the suffering caused, but we're totally naive to be surprised.

      July 15, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  3. Linda Lichtenstein

    Someone told that this poor little boy was autistic. Is this true?

    July 15, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • frank

      Leiby or Muneef?

      July 15, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • danny

      probably – alot of the hasids have health issues and genetic problems as they are so inbred.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Muneef

      No I did not say this word but if that is the case then he was up normal child and needed speacial care and protection...poor boy and family...

      July 15, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Devorah

      Danny that is the most ignorant statement i have ever heard. Inbreeding? Whether he was on the spectrum or not, autism is found in every community! I am no expert in that field but i can guarantee you that your comment has no basis to it whatsoever and was just plain stupid.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Muneef

      This must be from the close marriages they have from among very close family members....keeping the wealth within the family or for maintaining a blood line or for a religious purpose .... We have a certain area in South Arabia suffer the same genetic problems due such closed family marriages, that causes their children born up normal mentally or heart problems or disfigured shapes or missing parts...
      Any way God does what seems right to him and he is the best knower of every and all things, he is the most wise..

      July 15, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  4. Nfinitee

    It's understandable that when a heinous crime against an innocent child has been committed, it is only natural that we, as "feeling humans", attempt to cope and understand it. That's what makes us human. This is a grievous thing to deal with on levels that vary for everyone. Let's just remember that all we can do is pray for the family as they deal with this loss. We MUST realize that for something of this magnitude there may never be an answer on this plane that we all share. Peace to all of you as you continue your journey until the end.

    July 15, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  5. Muneef

    Take the Wisdom of belief;
    ---–
    [2:269] He bestows wisdom upon whomever He chooses, and whoever attains wisdom, has attained a great bounty. Only those who possess intelligence will take heed.
    -----

    [2:274] Those who give to charity night and day, secretly and publicly, receive their recompense from their Lord; they will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
    -----

    [13:11] Shifts (of angels) take turns, staying with each one of you – they are in front of you and behind you. They stay with you, and guard you in accordance with GOD's commands. Thus, GOD does not change the condition of any people unless they themselves make the decision to change. If GOD wills any hardship for any people, no force can stop it. For they have none beside Him as Lord and Master.
    -----–

    But do as well as a believer to believe in this in good faith;
    ---

    [2:155] We will surely test you through some fear, hunger, and loss of money, lives, and crops. Give good news to the steadfast.

    [2:156] When an affliction befalls them, they say, "We belong to GOD, and to Him we are returning."

    [2:157] These have deserved blessings from their Lord and mercy. These are the guided ones.

    July 15, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • Muneef

      ......After all it is the destiny ;

      [9:51] Say, "Nothing happens to us, except what GOD has decreed for us. He is our Lord and Master. In GOD the believers shall trust."

      July 15, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  6. David Johnson

    Indeed, this is a terrible tragedy. But I must ask, where was god when this child was attacked? Where was god when all the other children were prey for the animals of the world?

    Christians claim their god has a plan for everyone. Was this god's plan for this boy? To be murdered by a monster?

    Christians claim their god gives everyone free will. Where was this child's free will? Did the boy choose to be killed?

    I don't have enough faith to believe an all good, all powerful god could look on, while an innocent child is tormented and killed.

    Yet, apparently that is what happened. God either does not care, or does not exist.

    Cheers!

    July 15, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • cindy lo who

      God does exist....he gave man free will....surely God takes care of all who die that are innocent (like a child) or who fear the Lord. I pray for you David that you may believe that God exists and sent His Son Jesus as my King and your King too.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • harford

      david...god give us the choice to do good or evil...god did'nt tell this guy to do this heinous act...he took it upon himself...god is real...you will see before the end...
      cheers

      July 15, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • JF

      You're right people do choose between good or evil. You can pray all you want, but there is no god that is going to protect you from someone choosing the evil path.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • David Johnson

      @cindy lo who

      You said: "God does exist....he gave man free will...."

      If so, He certainly doesn't give free will in equal measure. The strong or the people in power have greater free will than their victims.

      You said: "surely God takes care of all who die that are innocent (like a child) or who fear the Lord.

      There is no evidence that this is true. The only undeniable fact, is that a child has died a horrible death.

      You said: "I pray for you David that you may believe that God exists and sent His Son Jesus as my King and your King too."

      Prayer doesn't work cindy lo who.

      Jesus speaking:

      "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." –Matthew 21:22 (NIV)

      "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." –Matthew 17:20 (NIV)

      Are Jesus' words true? Can you post back to me and claim what Jesus said is true?

      If Jesus' words aren't true about prayer, then how can we depend on anything else Jesus said? Maybe if we could "test" the afterlife claims, they would be no more real than the claims about prayer.

      Cheers!

      July 15, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • David Johnson

      @harford

      You said: "god give us the choice to do good or evil...god did'nt tell this guy to do this heinous act...he took it upon himself...god is real...you will see before the end..."

      Hmm... God didn't tell this guy to do this heinous act... That is true. But apparently, God also didn't tell the guy not to do the heinous act. The child is dead. This would have been a great opportunity for one of those personal revelation that believers tout.

      As I asked in my previous comment: "Where was the child's god given free will?" God certainly doesn't give this "gift" in equal measure.

      When I read of a young girl who was abducted, her last few moments a hell, I at first wondered why god didn't send a lightening bolt. A pillar of fire between the monster and the child. A heart attack...

      And then I realized that a flashy miracle wasn't necessary. God could have caused a policeman to come by unexpectedly. He could have given the child a belly ache, that kept her safe in bed for the day.

      I think the answer "god will take care of the little ones in Heaven", is a poor answer. It cheapens human life. In the world, something like 5,000 children die from starvation related causes every day. But, what does it matter? God takes care of all who die that are innocent (like a child). Why protest abortion? Even if it is murder, God will take care of them, in Heaven.

      Cheers!

      July 15, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      @David Johnson

      I love reading your posts. You always pose intriguing questions or scenarios that should get people thinking.

      I really liked that last paragraph about God taking care of the aborted. I have always wondered how a 1 month old fetus would experience heaven.

      July 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  7. SnowVeil

    May Jesus the Messiah save all Jews very quickly.

    July 14, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Joe

      May Allah, and his prophet Mohammad, save all the Christians.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Zombie Jew

      Thanks but not thanks. We have seen what your zombie Jew god has done to us in the past. Mass murder, forced labor camps, enslavement, & ramming your religion down our throats. Come to think about it you do that to everyone else to. May that poor child rest in peace. As a father of 5 cannot even imagine something like that happening to one of mind.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Zombie Jew

      Oh yeah Muhammad going to save us all. By what flying into building or blowing ourselves up?

      July 15, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Herb Levine

      You think taking advantage of a terrible tragedy like this is an effective way to missionize and an appropriate time to "witness"? How foolish and offensive can you be? No, please do not attempt to show us.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • JF

      Yes that's just what the Jews need, someone to tell them about Jesus.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Craig

      Maybe if you all stopped spending so much time talking to imaginary friends, things like this wouldn't happen.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  8. ally

    this guy is a mental health specimen of high degree – just wait and see!

    July 14, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  9. ally

    we should not blame the boy's parents. He was not 3 or even 5. sounds like in this neighborhood people were positive their kids can be safe.
    My 9 year old is asking to ride bike or walk since 2 years ago as many many neighborhood kids do so.
    I am being a "crazy mom" so far to drive them every morning; But I would not do so if I had a 8:30 AM job to go to.
    Myself grown independent with walking to school and everywhere else since 7, day or night, still, I can't let my kids to do so!!!! I don't blame anybody but the world is not the same 25 years later!!!

    July 14, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  10. jesus

    this guy should receive the same treatment to know what its like to be the victim.

    July 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • 65250

      How original.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  11. barbara

    the hasidim are extremely religious and nice people ,crime is basically non existent amongst hasidic jews, u will never encounter an hasidic Jew committing a violent crime ,there are hasidic and religious jewish neighborhoods in Israel that don't have and police department because crime is non existent amongst religious Jews, no wonder everybody is in complete shock, and the charity organizations that exist amongst hasidic Jews is unparalleled even amongst their Orthodox Jewish counterparts.

    July 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • kathy

      Unfortunately Barbara in this very sick world we live in you can never say never. May God bless this little boy's soul and his grieving family. What a horrible tragedy!!

      July 15, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • raberyleti

      Well guess what Barbara? There's a first time for everything. Unfortunately, this first cost a child his life. It could have been prevented.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  12. A

    This is horrible and tragic and their is no amount of compassion that can be shown to this family that will make it any better; but that does not mean that all good people will not feel compassion and try to give solace in any way possible. The animal that did this is evil. The parents are not at fault; though there is no doubt that in hindsight they would do things differently but they did not overstep the bounds of judgment that belongs to a parent. How could they have ever even imagined that their child would run into an evil monster. And for all the haters out there, take it elsewhere. This has absolutely nothing to do with Palestine, or Moslems, or theology or what you think of Hasidic Jews, or what your personal politics are. And anyone who cannot see that really needs to engage in some serious introspection.

    July 14, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  13. Yvonne

    when little Cayle was murdered no one wrote: " Catholics/Protestants mourn her death"

    July 14, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • A

      you are right. But of course they did (as did everyone else. CNN has put up a stupid headline.

      July 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • patty

      CNN has the reputation for decades of being "anti semitic"....what to do??? There are other compassionate people who are more educated and understanding.

      July 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  14. sa

    Poor little boy-what a horrifying experience for him to have gone through. This is a heinous crime and has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity. The manwas obviously a deranged psychopath. But since so many people are bringing up the religion card, I have to say that I was 2 years old when my family migrated to this country in the late 60s. I have olive skin tone and my name is foreign so I stood out as someone who was different. Immediately after our move to the states, my family lived in a small, southern town where everyone was white and conservative christian. I went to a christian school and I and my family were treated very well and welcomed even though we were different. I will always remember those times with fondness. When I got a little older, our family moved to a metropolitan town in the midwest which was affluent and predominantly jewish. We were discriminated against . That was my first experience with racism. That's just the experience I had.

    July 14, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • danny

      no surprise there, although the media in this country would have you believe that it is the white Christians who are discriminating against everyone else.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  15. CamNY

    I wouldn't let my kids out of my sight for a minute, and I don't understand parents who would take that risk, no matter how tiny the chances of anything going wrong. That said, we can Monday-morning quarterback this until we're blue in the face, but no one EVER deserves what his parents are going through right now. What possible punishment for this lapse in judgment could anyone here mete out with nasty words that would be worse than living with the knowledge that someone stole and murdered their beautiful child? I can't even get my brain around that kind of pain. They're suffering enough. Let's put aside the judgment and have some mercy on these people.

    July 14, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • patty

      The child was begging his parents since the beginning of summer to walk home from camp and in this community it's very close nit and small. The day that this happened, his mom finally agreed, deciding to give him the independence he craved. It's not unlikely in this tight nit community to see a small child walking home alone. There are so many familiar faces around. It's a very unfortunate story. People need to stop judging and blaming the parents. You don't know the real story.

      July 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • CamNY

      @patty – Read the last line. I'm not blaming anyone. In fact, that was the whole point of my post, to say the child's family is suffering enough and people here don't need to say mean things.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  16. M.B.

    It's tragic that this had to happen. It could have all been prevented. Why would a parent let an 8 year old walk 7 blocks alone in a place like New York?? I wouldn't let a child do that and I live in a much smaller community. No matter how mature or smart a child is, they are still a child! New York is a big place and adults get lost, let alone an 8 year old. My heart goes out to the family for their lost, but I hope other parents think twice before asking their children to be that independent at such a young age.

    July 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • patty

      This boy was begging his parents since the beginning of summer to walk home from camp and in this community it's very close nit and small. The day that this happened, his mom finally agreed, deciding to give him the independence he craved. It's not unlikely in this tight nit community to see a small child walking home alone. There are so many familiar faces around. It's a very unfortunate story. People need to stop judging and blaming the parents. You don't know the real story.

      July 14, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  17. shocked!

    America, America, God shed his light on thee! I hope this story compelled us to do more to keep our children safe. Many times we want to bring awareness to human trafficking, and abuse from other countries and we fail to educate our own. I hope we learn from what has been happening to children around this country for the couple of months, these horrific crimes should move every family to tears and action. Do everything you can, speak to your legislature!

    July 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  18. ReasonablePerson

    He just committed one of the most heinous crimes imaginable and he's made sure he's wearing a yarmulke while they take him away. Gee, I hope "God" gives him brownie points! Oh, btw, where was "God" while that poor 9 year old boy was fighting for his life?

    July 14, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • huggies

      crying with us

      July 14, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  19. mslane

    HOpe he doesn't get an acquittal!

    July 14, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • AB

      No way the Jews will let that happen. They have a lot of power in the NYC! Justice will be served.

      July 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  20. Elizabeth T.

    Hy heart goes to the family of this boy. I know their lives are shattered. Nobody should blame his parents....it's not their fault. What a terrible tragedy!

    July 14, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.