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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. Hana

    I dont understand all of the comments about religion. Yes, they were a religious group. But it is a tragedy, plain and simple. Insanity and horror can and does exist everywhere. I truly feel for the family and the community that lost such a young member. I ache for the reality that they must now face in realizing that someone they knew could turn out to be the bringer of such atrocities. Facing that kind of knowledge can shake a persons trust in other people, and possibly even their faith. Truly hope that they find the strength in each other, in themselves, and in God to heal.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Hana

      A cult is a cult, be they Jew or Gentile.

      His sect ADMITS they don't involve police in their internal problms

      Is it any surprise that they had a cannibal in their quorum?

      Actually it was a blessing he was Jewish, if the killer had been African American, Brooklyn would be in flames!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Hana

      And yet they did call the police and the man was arrested....

      Sounds like you are letting your bigotry over shadow basic human compassion. Show some respect for a family who just lost a son.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Besides Hana, if they don't grow up and be RESPONSIBLE parents, they will just lose more.

      How long did they wait? For an EIGHT year old?

      One state over in New Jersey, they would probably be prosecuted

      July 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  2. ART

    I guess this comes from feeling that they are better than anyone else, but evil knows no boundries,and when you have a limited gene pool then this kind of thing will happen.

    July 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  3. William Demuth

    If one reads the articles in todays New York Times, several members of this cult admit they do NOT turn in the deviants amongst them.

    Then they wonder why so wacko, disgused to look like the other wackos, amputates and eats childrens feet.

    This freak was deviany since day one, and they hid the truth from the cops to spare their cult the embarrasement

    July 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Muneef

      You know I do not want to appear judgmental but why he kept the feet and thrown the rest of the body 2 miles away from the area? You said to eat the feet....! That might be right if this guy was a cannibal..? But if he was he would have kept all flesh and thrown the insides only...! So I rather think he kept the feet in the refrigerator with the intentions of sending it to the parents proofing that he was killed....! Maybe was because he tried to blackmail the parents or to satisfy some hatred either to the cult or to the father whom he might have known from far....otherwise am not finding a reason why would some one do such a thing for $ex at a country that is full of that freely and not restricted as even secular Muslim countries?
      I mean if he did not know the parents nor did he want to harm the cult, or if he was just a $ex manic who wanted to fulfill some need then why kept the feet? Then if he was a cannibal why he kept the feet and thrown the rest? It just does not add up right and after all the father is a cap driver which drops the possibility of blackmailing as well...???
      Just unbelievable...but since he did it once he must have done it before kidnaping,abusing....and for being an ex butcher then he must have had few killed...

      July 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  4. William Demuth

    One cult member killed another.

    It's been going on for centuries, and we do nothing.

    HELLLLOOO modernity is calling, get over yourselves!

    Just because someone in your cult mimics the same lies you so, it dosen't mean you are both correct, it means you are both liars.

    July 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  5. SEPHARDIC JEW.

    what a horrible thing to say about another sect of jews "he was an outsider...possibly sephardic..not like us" what are you implicating? that sephardic jews are more likely to dismember and murder a little boy than the ashkenaz yid? this is a time where jews of all kind are uniting and feeling a sense of sorrow and unity not a time to debate about the background of the murderer. you should be ashamed of yourself the only way mashiach will come is if we all learn to love eachother and get along, not blame your own kind just cause they are not brought up the same exact way as you did.stop thinking your ways are better than all other jews, he was a murderer. not sephardic, not ashkenaz . not human...just a cold blooded killer

    July 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Jew

      I would like to raise the very likely possibility that this comment was taken completely out of context. It is unlikely that almost any frum yid in boro park would have been thrilled at being badgered by some media person. They were probably asked a pointed question, trying to get such a response. Remember, the media doesn't feel beholden to report the truth and put things in context. I wouldn't take that as a statement of the wider conception of sephardi jews in the frum Ashkenazi community.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @SEPHARDIC JEW.

      Dear brother, our Messiah has yet come. His name is Jesus from Nazareth (Israel / district Galilee).

      When he will come again, he will judge the living and the dead people.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Ani C.

      They're just saying this so it would seem that he's not one of them, because goodness knows, one of them wouldn't commit that crime. I knew Levi.... he was one of them.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  6. Rainer Braendlein

    Passage from the above article:

    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."

    End of passage.

    I guess, the above statement of the rabbis is right. Such crimes don't occur very often. The probability to die by an accident or any disease is surley much higher.

    And of course such a murder can occur in every community, not solely in the Jewish one.

    Some of you may have ever heard of Fritz Haarman (1879-1925). He has murdered 24 boys. How did he kill them? He bit through the throat of the boys by his own teeth!!! This occured in the German town Hannover.

    Regarding the whole Germany (consider, this is a whole country and not only a district) children are murdered perpetually. However, the probability for a single child to become victim of a murder is nearly zero.

    All crimes, including murder, are just excesses of an unredeemed mankind.

    First when the Redeemer Christ takes over rule, such things will occure no more.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  7. CoffeePartyMember

    Rest in peace. The boy is finally home.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  8. CoffeePartyMember

    Devils walk among us.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Nonimus

      If you are seeing Devils among us, you may want to seek professional help.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Doctor Bucephalus

      Nonimus (did you mean to spell that with a Y?) if you're having so much trouble interpreting figurative language when someone's expressing grief and fear at a murdered and abused child, you need to seek help for that autism you've got.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  9. CoffeePartyMember

    It shows crime and atrocity do not discriminate among religions and races.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  10. James Black

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig
    ^.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  11. Bible Clown

    He was mentally ill, and it's a tragedy. It happens in every town and to every ethnic group.

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

    Why are they painting the killer as "Sephardic" ? Well I guess Ashkenazi jews could never do something like this. I am "african american" with parents from Haiti. A married father of 3 kids, 7, 4 and 1. I am deeply saddened by this little boy's death. I pray that the parents can find peace through all of this. Trying to make the guy an outsider now is not what should be done. Trying to show your children that "sin" affects everyone even the ultra-conservative. Trying to make this a them VS us issue is stupid. Someone posted that jews are constantly have to watch out for anti-semitism, so I guess I should be looking out for racism constantly because it is a constant reality . This little angel's death is a reminder that you must watch over your kids like hawks and not forget people are people and they can do you harm no matter if they look like you.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Nonimus

      Not that it justifies anything, but I think it is human nature to attempt to differentiate yourself from those who(m) you do not like. This was just a natural coping mechanism, I think, not that that makes it right.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Doctor Bucephalus

      Matthew I get where you're coming from but Sephardic Jews don't just come from Africa. Many are mid-eastern, or come from central Asia. Many more fled Spain northward, though there was a high assimilation rate in centuries to come. Whole communities of Sphardim live in Brooklyn, and, by the way, no one has a habit of blaming them for crimes like this. If I suggested that to one of those Ashkies over there they'd either think that was the strangest thing they've ever heard or that I've got one sick sense of humor.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  13. bachmanntwit

    FACT: Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus Bachmann, is gay. Their marriage is for convenience.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  14. m

    I live in Northern NJ. Brooklyn is part of our local news. On News 12 this morning they said the boy was mildly autistic. Someone on a bd. had wondered if the boy was "slow" wondering how he didn't recognize landmarks and realize he was going the wrong way much sooner than he did. Esp. since according to reports the parents went over the route with him the day before.

    So what I'm wondering is, since they say the boy begged to walk home, if he wasn't being bullied for being "different" on the bus. Yes, these kids are good kids and are taught better. They all live in the same neighborhood, have same beliefs, customs, rituals, etc. But they ARE kids. And kids being kids they tend to pick on someone who is different.

    I'm really not blaming anyone. The fault is with the sicko who killed him. I know a lot of people are blaming the parents for letting the boy go but it wasn't their fault. They didn't kill him. The sicko did. So let's lay the blame squarely on him.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • CoffeePartyMember

      True. Any parents would hope their kids can be independent and walks their ways home. Should not blame on the poor parents.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  15. Bob Loblaw

    "It would have been extremely scary if a terrorist would have come into the community and killed a boy.....". Since when are Jews not capable of being terrorists?

    July 15, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  16. JohnT

    I agree with another poster here, fanatical religious groups like these are too isolated from reality. Groups like this are total breeding grounds for mental illness like you saw played out in this very sad story. Whenever I see a religious group isolate themselves and force members to wear certain clothes or grow their sideburns long and curly or wear long black coats all the time, or whatever, people are going to get sick. They are sick people.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  17. rex edie

    truly a sad story...... but proves that there are damaged and sick people in the world....no matter what they are brainwashed to believe in ..... some are just majorly defective.....

    July 15, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  18. KIR

    FYI to the writer of this article: most of those signs are in English and Yiddish, not Hebrew.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • EL GRECO

      this is AMERICA and signs should be in ENGLISH.

      no hebrew, no chinese, no spanish

      CAPISH?

      July 15, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Nonimus

      @El Greco,
      lol... hope you were trying to be funny, Mr. "Spanish name for The Greek". Yes, I capisce.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  19. Dina

    Here's the lesson: When you see that someone in your family or community is that mentally ill, do something about it.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  20. t

    i guess to have a level of comfort they still have to separate this cold blooded killer as not being one of their own. it's a bit disgusting.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • JohnT

      yeah, he WAS their own, it's a sick community

      July 15, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • CoffeePartyMember

      Crime and violence do not discriminate races and religions.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Mary

      @JohnT – You are obviously a Jew hater.

      @t – I tend to agree with you. It really makes no sense to try and set him apart based on ethnicity. What sets him apart is that he is a cold blooded killer. Whether he was a Jew or not really has nothing to do with it. It's just a sad reminder that we walk amongst the evil everyday. You may be standing behind a murderer in the check out line. Evil is alive and well on this planet. We all just need to pay attention to what is going on around us and do everything we can to protect ourselves and children.

      July 15, 2011 at 12:28 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.