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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. freda

    a child killed senseless. what a shame who cares what religion the killer was!

    July 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Samb499

      the term north african jew has no inference of white or black. European Jews are the vast majority in the area. The sephards have different customs and are the minority in the area.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  2. disturbed

    It is disturbing to read comments posted that focus on irrelevant labels and disregard the ONLY important fact in this. An innocent child is dead. Awareness of reality without distorted focus on man- contrived labels is what would benefit everyone, not judgmental name calling.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • musings

      Well, no. You don't get to say that ethnicity doesn't matter. The kid trusted his own. He was brought up that way. Other kids trusted priests. They were brought up that way. Get it? The group is now feeling that people within the group might be the very worst. That's why it matters. Because the safety within the group is threatened.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  3. Mamasita

    This is a gruesome tragedy and terribly sad. My heart goes out to the family. What also shocks me is this Jewish community didn't believe "they" are capable of such acts. Welcome to the real world.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Nick

      It's because they think of themselves as "especial".. when something as horrible as this happens, it reminds them that maybe they are just as humans like everybody else.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Danny

      Nick got it right.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Soiboy

      agree with Nick, too isolated and insular fanatical religious groups like these are breeding grounds for mental illness

      July 15, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  4. Jared

    This is undoubtedly a tragic story. I find it to be offensive however, that the focus of this particular story is addressing the fact that the killer and victim are from the same religious community. Sorry? Would Dan Gilgoff prefer this was a murder motivated by an anti-semite with a different religious background? A non-Jew? Would that lessen the severity of this atrocious act? "It would have been extremely scary if a terrorist would have come into the community and killed a boy, but..." Really? Were you expecting Al Quaeda to show up in your town? An orthodox jew can't be a murderer? RELIGION IS DESTROYING HUMANITY.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Elexsor

      Than maybe you shouldn't read news on the cnn BELIEF blog. Here is a tip: Look up at the URL. See the word religion? Now go punch yourself in the face for being a moron.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • CB

      I think what Mr Friedlander meant was that it is always more jarring when someone that is a trusted member of the community or group commits a crime like this than someone from the public at large. For example, teachers generally have a certain amount of trust from the communities which they serve, so if one of them committed a crime against a student it would be more shocking than if the perpetrator were a complete stranger.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Ashe

      Actually, this is the main story on CNN's main page. No one was seeking out anything. I guess that makes you the moron for presuming.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Ed

      Elexsor, funny that you're going to go around calling people morons... when you don't even know how to use proper grammar. It's "then" not "than."

      July 14, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • Elexsor

      @Ashe: The link brings you here and Belief Blog is the first thing you see. The story is below that. Therefore you are actually the moron. My point stands. If you don't like it don't READ it.
      @Ed: You are a moron for thinking that a small mistake in someone's grammar makes them a moron. It is a comments section not a thesis. What makes you the moron is that you have nothing more to contribute than nitpicking at grammar. Did it ever occur to you that typographical mistakes are easy when entering messages from a phone? No? Well sorry your brain doesn't think that far in advance.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  5. Bannister

    EVERYONE: The reason this story mentions the religious angle is because THIS IS THE CNN "BELIEF BLOG" a blog which focuses on religious issues!

    God bless the boy and his family.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Elexsor

      THANK YOU! Why are people so ignorant and full of hate?!

      July 14, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Ed

      Actually, it's the main story on CNN's homapage. Try again.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Elexsor

      @Ed: Actually when you click on the main page link and it sends you here you can see BELIEF Blog on the top of the page.
      ps. Do you have anything else to contribute? No. I didn't think so.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • d rufus onfyre

      It is also shocking when a normally peaceful community, where people trust each other, is shaken in such a violent manner. The common cultural and religious backgrounds of the victim and accused are therefore newsworthy. There is no antisemitism implied.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Jgrl

      Bannister is right, have a look at the URL for this story. First word in the address is "religion". It should be "crime".

      July 14, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Julia

      @Ed- That's funny! I thought you were the self-designated editor of the comments here, then you write: homapage. Thanks for the chuckle to lighten the mood after reading of such a horrible tragedy. TIP: install the browser Firefox. It does spell-check as you are typing, like MS Word.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  6. Adam

    Why is this such a surprise that the killer was jewish as well? Just because they are Jewish doesnt mean they are perfect people who never do anything wrong.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Elexsor

      @Adam: When was the last time you heard of a very religious Jewish person committing a violent heinous crime? Rare and thus the people of this community which are used to virtually no crime at all being blindsided that one of their own would/could do this.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Mark

      Just because the jewish media doesn't report on jewish crime, doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Google jewish crimes.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • guest7

      @Elexsor.....You are extremely misinformed. There is a ton of Jews committing violent crime in the US, however crime is completely overlooked when viewing any sort of info or statistics in Jewish communities. This isn't the first Jewish person to mutilate and murder a child. There have been reports that the Jewish community knew he was a threat to children and even protected his dark secrets.....That he was a known child molester and predator in the community. Information has already leaked that the community knew for quite some time but protected him. There are also websites that investigate/watch/and inform communities of child predators all set up by average citizens and there is thousands of Jewish men who've committed crimes almost as bad as this one and some worse. This man supposedly has done this before btw.....you'll find out soon.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  7. jason s0

    Whatdose beeing a spanish jew of north african decent have anything to do with it white jews a racist aginst non white jews that explains it all

    July 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Exodus7

      I too was wondering the same thing.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Squink

      Sephardic Jews are not black - they are descended from the Jews kicked out of Spain during the Inquisition years. Their customs are somewhat different than Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jews). The community is probably clinging to the belief that he is not one of their community, so to speak, so they won't have to face the fact that one of their own did this. When your survival depends on everyone in the community presenting a united front and everyone supporting and protecting everyone else, the fact that he was part of the community is deeply threatening and frightening - realizing that the wolf lived.

      Jews don't think they are "especial" but their survival has always depended on one for all and all for one.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  8. seesaw

    When ever I see these senseless murders, which appear to have no motive, my first thought is that the perpetrator is mentally ill.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Julia

      I grapple with that issue myself. It seems to me that Anyone capable of 1st degree murder has to be sick in order to do such a thing. That being said, I do not believe however, that every murder case deserves an insanity plea.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  9. Charlie

    The prevailing sense of insularity & superiority expressed by those interviewed is so insulting. Viewing those of different faiths/ backgrounds as more capable of evil is a shonda. The unfortunate reality is all people are capable of wickedness.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Exodus7

      Agreed.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • cestlavie3

      Ya think?

      July 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • tom

      that's what i got from the story

      July 14, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Squink

      Oh, come on, they are traumatized and trying to find a shred of sanity to make this bearable. The wolf lived within, and that would be deeply frightening to any community, especially one whose survival is so tenuous.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  10. chris

    I'm sick of seeing comments about how it's the parents fault. In a close-knit religious community people TRUST one another unfortunately that is not always the case. May this child rest in peace and may God carry him home. My heart goes out to the family.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • GG1000

      It is foolish to trust people based on their religion just like it's foolish to hate people for the same reason. Atheists may be good moral people and a religous Jew may suffocate a little boy for no good reason. You have to protect your children; it is your responsibility as a parent. My heart breaks for the parents and their child, but I would NEVER, EVER let a child of that age walk 7 blocks alone and all children should be taught that if they need help, they should approach a woman with children in a shop with other people around or of course police or fire personnel but still always with other people around.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Irene

      Parents are the only ones to blame. They neglected their child. They provoked this tragedy. If only they walk eight blocks (mere 10 minutes) to meet their boy at school.
      I live in this area and every day I see 5, 6 year old kids walking alone. Where are the parents? What are they doing? What is more important than the lives of their children?
      I am a mother myself and I never left my kids unattended for a fraction of a second because my children come first and everything else second.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • Frank

      Agreed, Chris. The parents are going through hell right now. Nothing worse will ever happen to them in their lifetime.

      @Irene, your comments are just mean-spirited. If you can't help heal, then at least don't hurt. Ever hear of "Judge not, lest ye be judged!"? My heart goes out to the parents. Whatever the boy's ordeal - brief, I hope - it is over now.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:05 am |
  11. Alice

    My sincere condolences to the family.

    This particular religious community is not to blame. Mental illness is.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Frank

      Agreed. We need to spend more money on the treatment of mental illness and be more proactive in forcing, yes, 'forcing' some people into treatment.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  12. Ryan

    I am so sorry for this child. I can not believe that someone would let their 8 year old child walk alone in Brooklyn!! It does not take a rocket scientist to realize the dangers that exposes.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • lisa

      That too was my first thought....who would let an 8 year old walk 7 blocks alone thru Brooklyn..that said, I feel for the family. Very sad.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Georgia

      It is astonishing to me that so many people are so ignorant. First of all, I grew up in Brooklyn and anyone who lives there knows that there are small neighborhoods within thie city which are just like small town America. Everyone knows everyone else. I always felt safe in my neighborhood. Second, bad people can be anywhere thus bad things can happen anywhere. Third, as a Catholic, it would of course be even more horrific to me if a member of my church and community were found to have committed such a crime. I would not be implying that a catholic isn't capable but that am shocked that someone that is" like me" could do such a horrible thing. Lastly, I would hope that we all refrain from blaming this family for a monsters horrible act. It isn't proactive in any way. Parents are blamed for being too lax with their children and for being overly protective. If only we could all be perfect.
      God Bless this family and community at this time and keep this beautiful boy always. Amen

      July 14, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  13. Peggy

    Talk about horrific! I can't even imagine the pain his parents are going through right now. What that man did is so sick and disturbing, there are no words. I really wish the parents would have thought to not have him walk by himself. Walking seven blocks alone at 9-years old wasn't smart. It's unfortunate that this even had to happen.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Dave in Brooklyn

      Saying that a 9 y.o. walking some blocks alone is not smart is blaming the parents for something which is not their fault. Kids in this city and everywhere will move about, occasionally out of sight of their parents and 99.999999% of the time, it is fine. Statistically this type of event practically NEVER happens. Hasn't happened in NYC in decades. Your kid is more likely to get struck by lightening on a sunny day. If that happened, would you say it was not smart to let the kid outside?

      July 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  14. Patty

    I'm sorry – but in this day & age, who in the hell let's their 8 year old child attempt to walk home alone?! You have to a licemse to fish, but any idiot can have children!

    July 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • svann

      Apparently in the all jewish neighborhood it is normally very safe. Like 0% crime rate.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Aware Ness

      svann but they didnt live in some remote area, they lived in New York where there's TONS of people all the time. I personally wouldnt let my own child walk home alone that young in that area no matter what, but that's JMO.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • conrad

      I live a few blocks from that area and while I agree I feel safer walking through it – anyone can and does pass through there on thier way to the subway or other neighborhoods. It really isn't that 'insular'. Sure, when you walk by the Jews don't look at or acknowlege you, but that doesn't mean outsiders aren't there. Also, anyone could put those same clothes on so as not to stand out and rent an apartment nearby, but how would anyone really know anything about him? I think they have a false sense of security – the articles make it sound like a gated community or something and it just isn't. It's still Brooklyn and just blocks away there are crimes and killings fairly often.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  15. Ilene

    This headline is so wrong and speaks to the latent anti-semitism in this country and in the media (save the comments about how the media is owned by the jews.) This murder has not only shocked "jews in brooklyn." It has shocked decent people across the country.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Elexsor

      @Ilene: I don't see it as antisemitism. That would be the view of someone who likes to pull the over used "race card". Here try this on for size: It is more like "Surprised that it would be a white Jew versus a black man, or brown muslim, or non-Jew. Jews don't do this type of thing." Not so antisemitic anymore in my opinion versus a group that doesn't think (or are not used to) their own commit violent crimes. When was the last time you saw a headline about some extremely religious Jew committing a horrific crime? Exactly.. thus their surprise it was one of their own.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Mark

      There are a ton of rabbi's who have molested children but you never hear it because the jewish media avoids reporting on jewish crime. Google jewish crime and you will see many examples of this community and it's crimes.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • HighTime4Change

      Elexor...everyone of your replies aren't true. First you said it is on the Belief Blog when it is on the homepage of CNN.com. Second you say that Jews don't kill. Ummm, what about Palestinians? Please think before you post.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Elexsor

      @HighTime4Change: How about you think about my post. This is not Israel. We are talking about a tight community that also happens to be religious. My posts point out that it is not antisemitic and more about stereotypes and the beliefs (especially in those particular groups) that "they" don't do certain things. What I have posted is absolutely correct. THEY don't believe that one of their own would do this to their own. Just they same way (at least till recently) people didn't believe that a religious leader would molest kids. It is the idea about who they are and what they stand for and the pedestal that they may have put themselves on. ANYONE can commit crime. Crime and happen to ANYONE. People just like to believe that it doesn't in their community and how great and safe their community is. That is the point of the posts.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Elexsor

      ps. It IS on the Belief Blog. Read the top of the page. Doesn't matter that it is on the front page of CNN. When you click the link it brings you here and Belief Blog is the first thing you see. Stop pretending people. Just because you all don't choose to read where a link brings you is your own business. Stop lying to others about it.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • donn

      Mark, not sure what you mean by the Jewish media, as you can read about crimes committed by all sorts of people in all sorts of media, even stories about terrible crimes committed by Christians

      July 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • musings

      Latent? But I digress. What you need to see is that this community is like any other which has an expectation of safety: the Amish, rich people in posh communities, prep schools, (formerly) the Catholic Church and parochial schools. The significance is that the crime was detected by police working with some good amateurs who lived within that close-knit group. It was solved fast and without prejudice.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Mark

      donn, it is no longer a debate who owns and operates the media. It is all on record that jewish people own and dictate pro israeli policies in the media. If new media comes up, the jews try and buy it out, often successfully. Why would some group want a monopoly across the board on media? I am afraid that answer is more disturbing than this poor child's death. Good luck connecting the details, a little more education could serve you well.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  16. Lorin

    Jimbo- I wondered the same thing. Like why cut him up? But I guess it was so that no one would be able to discover the body. Sick bast*rd.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  17. JustAThought

    This story is terrible... My condolences to the family and friends however what I don't like is the reporting and reaction on how shocked they were that it was done by one of there own... When I read this, I knew it would be someone in the community, what were they expecting a muslim or black man? Really...If reporters researched they would have found orthodox jewish communities have been known to abuse and molest the young children...

    July 14, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • francine

      "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.

      "terrorist"...really? So a Jewish murderer can't be a "terrorist"? Even in a story that has nothing to do with Muslim hatred, CNN manages to highlight a Muslim bashing comment?

      Incredible. Disgusting.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Mark

      Francine, nowhere in the article did it say "Muslim". Perhaps it's that YOU believe that all terrorists are Muslim.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • conrad

      I live in the area, not a Jewish person, and was not expecting it to be one of thier own. There are so many people of different backgrounds around here it could be anyone. Also, thier insularity is offensive to some people for whatever reason so I figured it was a hate crime.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  18. Lorin

    Not that I'm blaming the parents but I wouldn't call an 8 year old child walking 8 blocks in brooklyn age appropriate.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Carol

      I completely agree! how you let your 8 year old child walked by himself on his first day of camp???? in NY??? ... it does not matter that there were 7 or 5 blocks, apparently he did not walk that route before camp started with his parents, so he would get familiar with the route, and besides that, this guy has some mental illnes, because he was in panic, he decided to kill an innocent boy going against 10 commandments!!!. That is why he was divorced from his exwife. I am praying for this innocent boy family!! G-od bless their heart!

      July 14, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  19. wthizgoinon

    wow demon

    July 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  20. Jimbo

    So did he eat the kid? It kind of sounds like it, man that is one sick mofo.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Brett

      no, he cut the boy into pieces, some were found in the trash outside...very sad

      July 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • chris

      dumb. does the article say ANYTHING about eating the child?

      July 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Uraluni

      Well, when you hear (read) that parts were in the fridge, you have to wonder what the purpose was if not to eat?

      July 14, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • BubbaAl

      Sadly, I think that you may be correct. A lot of killers - Jeffrey Dahmer comes to mind - who place body parts in their own fridge do eat some of thier victims in a sick and twisted way of "keeping her/him with me forever". I don't know the psych terms, all I do know is that this crazy azz sicko should never see the light of day again. Ever.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:09 am |
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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.