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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. jordan

    this is an awful crime.there are crazy people in every faith even my own jewish faith.we are all the same human beings.i hope this guy never sees the light of day again.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  2. Fiona

    Why is it a shock that the murderer is from the same community? There are bad people everywhere, in every religious sect, and of every ethnicity and race. If the murdered child and the murderer were Christian, or Muslim, or Hindu or Seventh Day Adventist, or Mormon...would the "shock" be the same? Orthodox jews are no better or worse than the rest of the human race.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • Jo

      Probably because all those above mentioned have murders every day. Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods do not. In fact, in all my years of reading the papers, and watching the news, the only case I'd ever heard of was on Cold Case Files. And it was never solved.

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

      @Jo: just because some thing is not reported, doesn't mean it did not happen. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but not all news is reported. Unfortunately, not all crimes are discovered; not all missing persons are reported missing. This is a scary world we live in. Your reasoning is just like another comment I read, the poster stating that there are no battered-women shelters in Hasidic communities (therefore, Hasidic women are not ever battered). Your logic is flawed.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • A

      No one is saying that criminals are not evenly distributed among all races; however that most certainly does NOT mean that mean that members of a close knit community do not have the right to be shocked when something like this happens, nor does it mean that they are somehow prejudiced for being shocked. Who wouldn't be shocked?

      July 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  3. sad angela

    My heart aches for the boys mother and father. But particularily for the child of the suspect who is going to have an especially hard time all his life knowing his father is such a monster. I pray that the comfort of their community and God can help them heal from this although I don't know any amount of comfort that would take that kind of pain away however I will pray for them anyway.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  4. Samuel Wallace

    God bless this precious child of God. May God comfort his mother, father, siblings and family at such a terrible, streeful time. May God heal them and touch them in a way, that they know God is near and in time it will be alright. Selah.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • pazyfe

      Amen Samuel

      July 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Les

      I'm curious – where was God when he was being kidnapped and dismembered?

      July 14, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  5. RACHEL

    It's very sad but as a parent there is no way in hell I'd allow my 8 year old child to walk 7 blocks alone no matter how big the city.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • chucky cheese

      What is the difference between pizza and a jew?

      July 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Dpurple01

      I'm with you Rachel! I wouldn't either!

      July 14, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Les

      Ditto, Rachel.

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

    Child molester!

    July 14, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  7. Betsy Young

    CNN why would you inflame prejudice by reporting on the "rumor" that the man is a Sephardic Jew and that he is considered an outsider because of that?? Is it the truth or not? THAT is what you are supposed to report – the TRUTH. What horrible, irresponsible journalism!!!

    July 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • jay in florida

      That's just what CNN is all about. Allegations, rumors and repeating lies constantly in the hopes they become accepted truths.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • A

      Totally agree. Of course there are always people going around saying stupid things, but selectively picking up on one such stupid thing and reporting it is ridiculous. Others are saying he is a Martian. Big deal. CNN, report the news, not some people's dumb comments.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  8. Chris Honry

    This guy is OBVIOUSLY a child molester trying to cover his tracks

    July 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  9. Priscilla

    Horrifying what was done to this little boy. I can't even imagine what he went through in his last moments of life. Praying for his parents and loved ones. Regardless of religion or race, we all bleed the same color blood. Ease up, people. Someone's child is dead and your hateful comments are unnecessary.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  10. Triumphant5770

    This child's murder made me cry and gave me a realization of how fragile life is. one moment you're here and the next you're gone. GOD bless little lieby's soul and accept him into paradise where he will never have to remember this heinous act that was done to him. also hats off to the investigators who were able to crack this case so fast, job well done. Only wish if it could have been a little faster. God bless!!!

    July 14, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  11. Di Drezner

    Its really stupid that some of you want to talk about religion when another innocent child is gone! How can you all be so disrespectful!

    July 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • pazyfe

      Di I don't think anyone is trying to place the pain all of us are feeling to the side, but please remember that everyday you are given is a gift from God, when something ad this happens we have to hang o to God's promises and know that no matter what we se or feel in the natural He is still God, the Great I am and we must seek strength from God.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  12. Dmon

    If there was ever a case for the death penalty, this is it. Levi Aron gave up his right to due process when he did what he did.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  13. JB

    Seriously CNN, Take the comments sections out of your stories, give people a break. Just because every idiot and "funny guy / social satirist" can comment on stories; you are doing a disservice to the Internet, you are not hip, edgy, or with the tmes. Enough is enough, take your comments section off of the web page.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • john

      agreed. this isnt a comments section anymore, it has become a ghetto of arrogance, ignorance, hatred and cruelty.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • sick of comments too

      agreed!

      July 14, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • jayla

      I disagree; everyone deserves to voice their opinions (1st Amendment). I've read a lot of these posts and although there are some unfortunate negatives, there are also many, many positives and well wishers.

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

      If you don't like the comments, read the article, then close it. Just because the comments are there, doesn't mean you have to stick around and read them....I'm just saying............

      July 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  14. Roose

    Hang the suspect as soon as possible! Lets not waste time this demon harmed an innocent child.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  15. Al Freeman

    This crime has only one explanation: Severe mental disease. It can happen to any people, any nation, any religion or ethnicity. In grief, people grab at a straw, but there is no explanation. Sick people occur. The only prevention is to watch your child as much as possible, which means not allowing an 8-years old to walk 7 blocks in NYC.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  16. Mam

    My thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of this little boy. Sincerest Sympathies to them all.

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

      Thank you.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  17. Roose

    We live in such a cold world! Lets hang the suspect. This crimes done on children will not be tolerated!!

    July 14, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
  18. Derek

    I am horrified!!! And deepley sadden because Leiby was doing what we All have done at 8yrs. old–enjoyed the feeling of walking freely down a street. Except he ran into a Monster!!!!!!!!!! I pray for the family and the "Monster."

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

      I pray for peace, Lord please give this family peace, let them leave the grief, pain, guilt and horrible sorrow in God's hands, let them pray when they feel they just cannot make it, let them hold each other tight and know that they did not wake up that day and let their beautiful walk a couple of blocks so a sick man would kill. Oh Holy Spirit visit them everyday, I pray for their mental strength, if they have other children may they thank God for that they have and cry in God's presence and know that God's promises are true. He will give them strength. Lord there are so many other children being murdered and abused have mercy oh Jesus have mercy.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  19. NVP

    My prayers and hearfelt sympathy to the family. Leiby Kletzky may you RIP.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  20. ohsnap

    That poor kid and those poor parents. Every parents nightmare...to finally give in to a request by your child and then to have him die. I was sick at heart when I read this. Let's put aside religion here. It doesn't matter. These poor people and that community will never be the same. In fact, no matter where this kind of thing happens and to whom, no matter what religion, it is tragic. The fact that this kid waited outside the dentist's office for this man says a lot. Perhaps he felt safe because that community keeps outsiders out. He felt he could expect a certain level of behavior based on principles that they share. That belief is now gone. Forever. No more looking at 'outsiders' and say 'they' do such things but 'never here'. Crazy is crazy...and it's in all religions. Really very sad.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:59 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.