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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. Mimi

    I get alot of flack for my son who is 8 for having his own phone. lots of situations have come up where he needed to call me and I am a very watchful parent, and untrusting of anyone with my son, he doesn't walk alone. but just in the course of being involved in activities etc...its nice to know he can call me. I tell my son monsters arent' real...when in fact they are. so sorry for the family and the community

    July 15, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  2. lovesweekends

    HELLO!! CHILDREN ARE NOT SAFE ANYWHERE.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  3. meadowmuffin

    hang him from a tall tree in the town square...time for justice to start equaling the crime...and for people to start paying for the wrong they do...our society is to soft on criminals...no more three chances...if people start seeing serious punishment on the first offence it may deter them...the kind of violence and crime we have today was so rare years ago.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • anna

      I feel that people like this who commit crimes, any kind of crimes, should be really made to suffer before they get sent to jail, lets face it jail today is like a holiday camp.
      We should take a page out of Singapores book and start lashing people for their wrongdoings.

      Like I said, they should suffer and a good lashing would help.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  4. WOW

    My heart goes out to this childs family. May God give you the strength during these difficult time.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  5. Brenda

    My heart hurts for this small trusting child and his family. This guy Aron is just sick. Hope he never sees the light of day again.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  6. american59

    so, i wanna see a major headline everytime a methodist kills a methodist, a catholic kills a catholic, a baboon kills a a baboon.........sorry for the childs death, but there are many many more greusone murders going on every day. cnn's reporting is skewed.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Mamulya

      I bElieve this is a group that has a much lower violent crime rate than any of the other groups you mentioned. If anything – white collar crime. Plus it is normal reporting, I think- knowing that community, that would be their reaction. That's why they felt safe to send a little boy across the neighborhood alone – it feels like family there, they thought it was completely safe. I send my daughter to a piano lesson 3 streets away in a suburban area, and I worry just a little. If she got hurt by someone in the neighborhood – I'd be devastated even more so that I couldn't protect her near her home. Wouldnt u feel the same?

      July 15, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • sevres Blue

      How un-American of you. A child is important to all of us. And we see these types of stories every day. But this is unusual, so it is news. Now... close your computer and go do something productive.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Maya

      I think maybe it has to do with the fact that he cut up that little boy and put parts of his body in the refridgerator. I don't know too many baboons who do that to each other. I mean really... a more gruesome murder than killing a child and cutting him into pieces to hide what you'd done?

      July 15, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • jaintn

      They're talking about it because this was a fairly insular Jewish community, or so they thought, and something this horrific is foreign to them. I think the story is more about the false sense of security they've had because they're a tight knit group, not because they're Jewish. They can't look at each other, or anyone else, the same way again. Welcome to America in the 21st century...................

      July 15, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  7. Mamulya

    So sad. This is a group of people, who, like the Aimish, had distanced themselves from the "real world" in order to protect their religious way of life. And just like the Aimish had to learn a few years ago with the bloody massacre in a girls classroom, sometimes the real danger is within, and not outside. I work with very sick people every day. My job is to protect them – from themselves. Most of the time they go about their lives harmless, but then sometimes – they can't help it. Those who are diagnosed and supervised can be contained – hospital, medication, etc. How many people go undiagnosed? Until we read about them in the news – shooting a group of people in college, at a political rally, cutting off a head of a man in the next bus seat. This community had to realize what we knew all along – life is random and sometimes very cruel. No Book can protect you from that. I'm sad for their loss – and for their rude awakening ...

    July 15, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • God

      Distant themselves? The Jewish community is well integrated into American society. Don't compare anyone to the Amish.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • Mamulya

      We r talking about Hasidic Orthodox Jews here, are we reading the same article? Yes, very much like the Amish. Different reading of the book, though, but similar approach to life – protect the rules installed by religious leaders in 17th century or so.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • AndyTheGameInventor

      While the non-orthodox Jewish community, including myself, is highly integrated into American life, the OP is correct, the Hasidic communities are highly insular, especially the ones that essentially have their own corporate municpaliites like New Square or Kiryas Joel. The level of interaction with non-Hasidic people, including non-Hasidic Jews, is usually limited to dealings with nearby businesses. There is a feeling in these communities that too much contact with non-Hasidic elements is a bad influence on their children.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  8. BarbaraT

    If I lived in that community, I would have known that a 8 year old walking alone was still in danger – regardless. How Jewish does one need to be to not realize that this is a real world we live in, with all types of creeps from any religious denomination.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • a million questions

      i heard that

      July 15, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  9. nitram26

    blue, black, yellow, jewish, catholic, muslim.. who the hell cares.. this should never of happend. almost the same thing happend in my area where a little girl was killed by their neighbor.. what is wrong with these people!

    July 15, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  10. shalom

    Snowveil, it is called the "Tehillim" (songs of King David) and and the chapters you make references HAVE nothing to with the Nazarene, in fact the entire "Tehillim" has nothing to do with the Nazarene. Please find the appropriate BLOG to respond on, as this is about the senseless death of a child

    July 15, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  11. Protect children

    Rest in peace precious little boy. I pray that your family finds strength and that God is holding you in the palm of His hand. Heart broken for you and your family.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  12. Importedlongago

    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.

    Sephardic....(underdogs of the Jewish faith)....

    July 15, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Izzy Roush

      Well that explains it!

      July 15, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Maya

      That line made me a little angry, because I can see a book in 20 years "What they told us about Leiby's death" and it will blame a non European. Well regardless, God bless the child and may his soul be at peace.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  13. Muneef

    During his married years, Mr Aron lived in Tennessee where he worked, among other things, as a butcher.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/outrage-in-brooklyns-jewish-quarter-over-boys-grisly-killing-2314028.html

    Sorry for all the mess I made before saying things that confused me and you since the article above is not giving any details until I managed to find the independent I realize what the story was all about but here is another rich source for fresh updates followup ; 
    http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/k/leiby_kletzky/index.html

    July 15, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  14. marc

    Julia.......you are a typical hypocrite....please spare me about the "self-superiority" theory in Christians or Muslims.....you are absolutely clueless.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  15. Terri Sanchez

    MY HEARTFELT SYMPATHIES TO THE FAMILY OF THIS YOUNG BOY AND TO THE WHOLE COMMUNITY. MAY GOD GRANT THEM PEACE AND COMFORT IN KNOWING THEIR SON IS IN HEAVEN WATCHING OVER THEM. THE ACCUSED SHOULD BE PUT AWAY FOR LIFE WHERE THE "OTHERS" WILL TAKE CARE OF HIM.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  16. bob

    This breaks my heart. Never should a child suffer at the hands of an adult, much less be violently murdered by someone he/she trusted. נח על משכבו בשלום

    July 15, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  17. Dude64

    I'm very sad; my heart goes out to the family. I'm not an Orthodox Jew, but grew up in Brooklyn for 30 years. The people of faith that live there are very nice open and close to one another. They try very hard to preserve the lifestyle of their faith and the belief in one another. EVERY COMMUNITY HAS THEIR NUT CASES! But to see the actions of this crime befall a small boy and this community only echoes the larger population. Not all are immune to crime.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Wonderfultwos

      Dude64 – you made the big mistake of saying "they try to preserve the lifestyle of their faith and the belief in one another". Looks like they are going to have to do two things that the bible suggests, (1) renew your minds (2) put on the whole armour of God......
      If they want to believe in one another, let them do so on an adult basis only. Children need to be protected at all times regardless of what race, nationality, gender or faith the adults are. Mindsets like these folks gives Satan an open door policy.,

      July 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  18. Susan

    I'm so sorry for this family's loss.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:23 am |
  19. SnowVeil

    Read Psalms and be comforted. God takes care of innocent victims in the way no human understands. The Book of Psalms is filled with the texts on Yeshua the Messiah. Just a few example: Son of God – Psalm chapter 2, 8, 16; Crucifixion – Psalm 22.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • William Demuth

      Bang up work God did here

      Be devout, and a cannibal eats your kids feet.

      When will you idiots ever learn, your churches and temples are just club houses for deviants who like kids.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  20. saywhat

    GONE TOO SOON. MY CONDOLENCES TO THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF THIS LITTLE FELLOW.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:14 am |
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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.