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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. ANDY

    This is wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! put this punk in jail next to few pitbulls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! what a sick SOB!!!!!!! how do you justify a killing of a 8 year old regardless

    July 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • DenverGrl

      I think this guy is mentally ill and possibly mentally deficient. Definitely sick.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • DenverGrl

      Industrious, that is just plain crazy. As a Jew, I can tell you that there is no such ritual, nor has there ever been going back to the times of the Temple. Please don't spread these stupid rumors.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      @Denvergirl – I like your post but as my Father told me once – Never make the mistake of confusing illness with evil.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  2. Blue96

    people do not let your kids walk alone I grew up in the 80's in Los Angeles and after a chil was kidnapped my mother never let me again... these days you can not allow that too many wackos out their.. sad but true. We shouldn't be surprised by anything religious person doing something evil.. my mom said we can see faces but not hearts!! Pray for your children and keep them close. My prayers and condolences to the family of this precious boy... My God comfort you because only He can...

    July 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  3. Lizzie H

    I agree that we should not be placing blame on the parents. It is a shame that a child can't walk 1/2 mile in this day and age without the security of knowing they'll be safe. Place the blame on the correct person- the monster that destroyed that boy's life, and that of his family. And BTW... Religion is not pertinent in this issue. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Thank you Lizzie. What a great, well-balanced post.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Les

      "I agree that we should not be placing blame on the parents. It is a shame that a child can't walk 1/2 mile in this day and age without the security of knowing they'll be safe".

      I'm curious as to the statement "in this day and age". It has been years since it's been safe for a child to walk the streets alone – especially in a big city and, not to mention, an eight year old child. There is no way I would let my eight year old walk 7 or 8 blocks by himself – no way. As a parent, my FIRST job is to protect my child. While 100% of the blame should not go to the parents, in my opinion, they used extremely poor judgment.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  4. KSG

    The fact that the perpetrator was also Jewish is irrelevant. This article's bias indicates that it is more shocking for a person of one faith to be murdered by a person of the same faith. This is untrue, regardless of the faiths in question.

    There are deranged people of all faiths. I ask that the authors strongly reconsider reconsider the message they are portraying in this article.

    My heart goes out to the family that lost their son in this tragic incident.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • In Total Agreement

      Well put KSG. I am in total agreement.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • musings

      It isn't just faith – like the joke in Chinatown in which Jack Nicholson uses the ridiculous phrase "of the Hebrew persuasion". It is family, long association with people and place, like the nice man in the neighborhood who turns out to have a secret torture chamber. Because it creeps people out to know that their peace has been disturbed by a trusted individual.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Mark

      How is it irrelevant when the jewish media never report on jewish crime that happens in their culture as much as any culture. Just because it is censored from the public doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Google "Censor jewish crime." I am frankly surprised to see that they covered this story!! Perhaps they could not avoid this one because of how horrific.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • A Cooper

      It is not that it is more shocking that someone of the same faith would kill his own. The shock is that in this community, people are very close-knit and trust each other to a degree not common in other parts of America. It is not that they don't expect a Jew to kill a Jew, it is that they would never suspect something like this to happen in their community where crime is rare and people trust each other.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • donn

      OK Mark, you are a fool.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  5. franky

    P.s. Not meaning jews! All the child killers,molesters,

    July 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  6. Jerkey

    it's even more troubling because Jews do not believe in altering the body in any way shape or form. not even getting tattoos or donating organs. as soon as they die they're in the ground the next day. so for a really religious jew to not only commit murder but to dismember the body is even more profound. yikes. poor little boy.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  7. ivy

    to be honest why would u let your 8 year old kid unattended. but that's besides the point, there r disgusting ppl in this world and most live right in the u.s. i sickening when ppl r just killing kids. kids r innocent deserve a future.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  8. BklynResident

    This is an horribl situation and my heart breaks for the family. I do not live very far from Borough Park and I have to say that I was also not surprised that the child was abducted from a member of the community. It is a very close knit community and I could not see the child trusting anyone who was not a part of it. There are many, many times that I see children walking by themselves but since everyone who lives there seems to know eachother it must seem like a good idea ~ I always shake my head when I see the children by themselves because I would never allow my child at that age to be by himself! Unfortunately, crazy doesn't know a race, religion or color and unfortuantely the child did not realize that this horrible man posed as a threat. Horrible way to find out!

    July 14, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  9. musings

    Good thing the shomrim helped the police to find the killer so quickly. The prejudice in such a tight-knit community is to believe, generally speaking, that an outsider does such things. Someone said "If it had been a terrorist." But it was. A terrorist within. That is the nature of evil – "Satan" is an equal opportunity employer.

    The whys and wherefores will come out. Probably a pedophile who was afraid of being caught. Maybe he struck before, maybe not.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  10. Mark

    Although this is a horrific crime and what that poor boy had to go through, it is refreshing to see the jewish media reporting on jewish crime which they usually avoid. Media should be unbiased and up until this story many of the crimes of the jewish community in general are swept under the rug. Thank you for telling all the stories as there is good and bad in all cultures. Very very sad!!

    July 14, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • IHZ

      Jewish and Jews begin with a capital J as in the Jerk you are.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Mark

      Wait, a child has been killed and you are worried about punctuation? You certainly shed more light on the psychology of your people.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • conrad

      IHZ – everyone wants to mourn with you. Don't turn them into your enemies over unintentional punctuation. I wouldn't even notice if someone didn't capitalize my race and religion and wouldn't care. Makes you sound like an egomaniac and further widens the divide between people. We are all cut from the same divine cloth!

      July 14, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  11. PARROT

    HOPEFULLY THE OTHER INMATES WILL KILL HIM IN JAIL....!

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

      I hope that the NYC justice system does not fail THIS poor child. It is sad that we cannot allow our children to walk home alone to and from school, however this is now our sad reality. Please pay close attention to your children, teach them the way of the world they live in. DO NOT TALK TO STRANGERS; DO NOT GET INTO STRANGER'S CARS; ETC! Please keep them safe. I do find it sad that this close knit community would assume it would be an "outsider" vs. someone living in the community. Criminal behavior knows no race or religious affiliation.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  12. evensteven

    Evil lurks in all races and creeds . . .

    July 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  13. shazmichamps

    Lord have mercy do not leave your children alone in sick and demented America...

    July 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Fearmonger.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  14. Nite Owl

    He's already labeled as Sephardic and by the end of the week Levi Aron will be described as a Palestinian by the community trying to distance themselves from the truth that interferes with their perennial victim mindset.

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

      I tend to agree with you, very very sad what some jews do to people of the world, and in this case their own.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
    • musings

      Maybe so, maybe not. If he is Sephardic, he is also from a close-knit community where everyone is related. From what I have heard, the Sephardim are not as highly educated, so maybe there is prejudice running both ways. Yes, a close-knit community will try and close ranks to differentiate themselves from a miscreant. But no red herrings were laid in this case – it was "Book him, Danno." If any lesson is to be learned, it is that evil is no respecter of ethnicity. And that kids should not go away with strangers – even strangers in the right ethnic group.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Joe

      Well said ...

      July 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • ali

      get over yourself

      July 14, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • tom

      totally agree

      July 15, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  15. Nobody

    Why would this report focus on the religious affiliations of criminal & the victim? instead of plainly condemning the crime ? It is bad and horrific act no matter who did it and against who? Yellow journalism?

    July 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • musings

      Baloney. Not yellow journalism when you have a community that lives in a kind of retro, trusting way. If an Amish kid were murdered by another Amish person, it would raise the same sort of disbelief and horror.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • musings

      Not only that, part of the body was disposed of in an allegedly "safe" neighborhood of Brooklyn where my daughter and countless other middle class types live. It was the kind of thing you associate with dumps on Long Island or the New Jersey mudflats, not Park Slope, and where the victim is not a child but a working girl. Which makes you think – what else has this criminal done?

      July 14, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  16. Ryan

    Just so the guy burns, and some stupid jury dose not let an obviously guilty man go free. Anyone who prays on hurts or kills a child should receive the ultimate punishment.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  17. Janette

    SMH at this "to-have-done-this-he-must-be-of -a-darker-race" rumor justification:

    "Still, 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."

    From the pictures, he looks of European descent to me. But of course, ethnicity has nothing to do with it. Crazy pervades every ethnicity, culture, and community.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • musings

      Agreed. The lowest common denominator of the human mind, in struggling for equilibrium after an event like this, is to try to distance itself by explaining the crime in some comforting way- "He really WASN'T one of us." Maybe his mother wasn't a Jew, maybe he was a Sephardic Jew, maybe he had some Palestinian blood or had a Moslem in his family tree at least. But that only speaks to the prejudices which people had before the event, prejudices which comforted them that they were among friends and not in hostile territory, surrounded by the kind of people who are posting here saying bad things about Jews in general.

      My own sense is that screwballs are found in every race and ethnicity, as are great strong souls. That would include people being persecuted all over the world by those who think they know them. If this horrible event can break down prejudice - no I don't think it can. Like the Crucifixion which was supposed to have saved mankind, it tends to reinforce blood libel. Oy vay (and I'm not even Jewish).

      July 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  18. Alana

    Murder is a violation of one of the ten commadments ,which are the fundamental basics of Judiasm. Any person who transgresses any of the commandments is obviously not a religious Jew. He may act like one, or even dress like one, but he is most definately not one.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Cmon now

      So murder is against the 10 commandments, is it murder when millions are killed in war??

      People there are good and bad in every race. People are responding like this because we have a race of people that purport themselves to be chosen by God and therefore better than others. The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered. My point is once humanity accepts that we are all truly equal and there are no better races or religions then we may start the healing process...and the need to say that he was not of Eastern European descent is almost funny had it not been tragic. Should not surprise anyone tho, religion is based in lies and religious people are liars or believers of lies..."Imagine ther's no heaven"...I wish that we could imagine that, then maybe we would try and make Earth a Heaven for all of us instead of just the "chosen ones"

      July 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  19. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    Whenever I hear people describing some graphic tortures they think a criminal should receive, I think they have the same sick desire to create suffering as the criminal, but lack the guts to actually commit a crime.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • Name

      Herp derp I lack the balls to say this in real life.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  20. azulle

    it doesn't matter what religion or "ethnic background" the murderer might be... the point is that he's a monster who killed an innocent little boy, and fortunately in this case he's been caught and will hopefully pay harshly for this terrible crime.

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

      Are you sure about that ??

      July 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
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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.