Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Horrific Murder of a Child, Social Networking and a 32-Year-Old Cold Case

(UPDATES BELOW)

July 13th, 2011 – Brooklyn, NY – Last night after dinner I received a text message from Notify NYC, a service provided by the New York City Office of Emergency Management alerting that there was a missing child in Brooklyn. An Orthodox Jewish boy named Leiby Kletzky, initially reported to be nine, begged his mother to allow him to walk the seven blocks from his day camp to meet her at a doctor’s office and vanished. I emailed myself the link and immediately shared it on Facebook. I, like most, have a love/hate relationship with social networking but can’t deny its success rate regarding the expedient delivery of news and information. Example: I had found out about the death of Michael Jackson while ankle-deep in brackish and volunteering with the Red Hook Boaters when a tween intern picked up his phone and read it as someone’s status on AIM.

Leiby Kletzky was kidnapped walking to meet his mother and found dead two days later, in the early morning hours of July 13th, 2011.

But social networking did not bring a resolution to eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky’s disappearance, it was good old-fashioned detective work that quickly solved the case. Deftly carried out by the NYPD’s top ranking officials and with the help of surveillance cameras in the area where the child was last seen on Monday. Had those cameras not been there, the suspect, Levi Aron – who turns 35 today and has implicated himself in the crime – would likely have avoided capture. And once Aron was seen with the boy, who looked to be asking for directions, footage from other cameras in the area was reviewed and the suspect was seen exiting a nearby dentist office. After determining which of the five dentists whose offices were in the shared suite had a transaction with the suspect, and the vehicle was found and plates were identified, both the person who paid a bill with a credit card at the dentist and the owner of the 1990 gold Honda Accord were consistent – and pointed at Levi Aron, pictured below.

An unfortunate foible is that the family waited so long to call 911 after the child went missing, instead calling the Shomrim, a volunteer civilian patrol sanctioned by the NYPD’s Community Affairs. The Jewish community seems to have a historically mistrusting and fragile relationship with authorities in general, especially the NYPD. So this community had formed their own police to support the NYPD and provide additional safety. That the local authorities were not immediately notified and thus unable to appear on the scene to begin a thorough investigation until nearly three hours after the boy was taken, to me, is a waste of valuable time that may have changed the outcome. Sadly, we will never know. The Shomrim did provide the license plate number for police, which was essential in “connecting the dots” and finding Aron along with this surveillance where the boy is seen walking and another where the boy can be seen waiting seven minutes for Aron while he goes into the dentist office to pay the bill. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly seemed frustrated by the Shomrim handling the disappearance before the NYPD in his press conference earlier today, and perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, added, “We have no record of this man being reported [as a pedophile].”

According to rumors swirling on social media and alternative news sites, Aron is also known to be in the center of past allegations of child molestation that the Orthodox community “covered up” and “never acted upon”. Listen to NYPD Commisioner Kelly’s entire news conference and Q&A here by clicking on the grey tab. Below, we see Kelly fielding questions from reporters including, “How often does a stranger kidnapping take place in the city?” to which Kelly answers, “Very, very, very rarely…this is obviously every parent’s nightmare.”

And for many New Yorkers, Leiby’s story sounds eerily similar to another child’s disappearance, that of six-year-old Etan Patz– the first to be put on a milk carton. On May 25, 1979 Etan left for school from his SoHo home two blocks away from the bus stop for the first time, never to return or be seen alive again. In the Patz case one suspect, Jose Antonio Ramos, was identified but never charged. Ramos has been incarcerated since 1990 in Pennsylvania for molesting two boys and is slated for release in November 2012. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office had reopened the investigation in May 2010, and perhaps the evolution of technology can somehow aid in a future conviction of that offender, who has taunted investigators since 1982 when he became a suspect yet left behind zero trace evidence and had eluded to destroying Etan’s body but has never completely confessed to the crime.

Missing child Etan Patz at the time of his disappearance in 1979 in New York City. He was legally declared dead in 2001.

The news of the throngs of community members who traveled from the Catskills, Monsey and other areas to search for little Leiby was touching but seems to have ultimately caused the kidnapper to panic. It was then Aron killed the child. The autopsy started at 9:30am on Wednesday and cause of death has not yet been published, and Aron, in a 450-word handwritten confession, later admitted to suffocating the boy with a towel and dismembering the child with a knife, then bringing half of his remains – in a garbage bag within a red suitcase – to a dumpster about two miles away from the attic apartment he lived in above his parents. The rest of the young victim, including the child’s feet, remained at the Aron’s home, in his freezer.

Assemblymen Dov Hikind and Peter Abbate, along with the Shomrim and other religious and community leaders had put out a reward of $100,000 for information about the child’s disappearance. Hikind, who often speaks on behalf of the community, says that the boy’s death is “a tragedy today for everyone in New York.” Of course those commenting about it on Facebook are saddened, outraged and disgusted. Sentiments such as ” I am heartbroken by this news”, “unfathomable tragedy” and many questioning the idea of allowing an almost-nine-year-old to walk seven blocks alone are expressed. In a thread I was a part of, I said:

“A big part of me thinks that a kid should be able to go meet his mother without being coerced into a vehicle by a stranger. It’s a terrible fate for this boy, and I do not think blaming the parents is the right position to take. I have cared for many little ones in my life and think NYC is too dangerous and limiting for the natural curiosities that kids deserve to safely explore. The diversity and culture is important, but those natural aspects of development are scientifically more important to me. Those things shouldn’t only happen on a fenced-in playground or safe in their bedrooms. We haven’t evolved from that.”

Has the city we live in become so unsafe that we must guard ourselves and our children from so much as setting foot outside alone? Does this mean the “helicopter parents” are right in their absurd constant monitoring of and attention to their children? Is the “surveillance state” in which we live somehow justified since the videos were so important in apprehending the perpetrator? And could Leiby Kletzky’s murder have been prevented if his mother did not allow him to walk seven blocks to meet her, even though he was to turn nine this month? Considering the whispers of ignored allegations, how many community members knew of what Aron was capable of before this crime took place? If those people exist, they should be most ashamed today.

This isn’t the story of prostitutes using Craigslist and putting themselves in danger, or of terrorists embarking on a mission to destroy America by way of the Big Apple. This is an example that even within a safe and protected community, even much more than what we are accustomed to, a monster can lurk. And statistically, are the chances of this type of heinous murder happening so low that there is in fact no way to prevent or defend against this sort of crime, shy of never letting anyone you love out of your sight ever again? And perhaps this ghoulish act reinforces that the concept of community police is not effective in all cases, and that the Orthodox community needs to realize that they can’t totally secede from the society they exist within and around when they NYPD is clearly more equipped to handle these cases with special task forces.

And if Aron had not provided a full and detailed confession of the crime, at least in 2011 we have the power of forensics to determine the time frame surrounding the homicide. Unfortunately for Etan Putz, in 1979 cameras were not a large part of New York City’s streets, there were no witnesses to his abduction and his body was never recovered. Along with technology and law enforcement, that this similar tragedy shows the power of community support on a local level, which is a very important to me, is also a double-edged sword: as compassionate people we are inclined to do all we can to help find a child, but it is not impossible that had Aron not seen the missing posters and panicked, he may not have killed. No matter the reasons, even if the last time something this horrible took place was over three decades ago, it is indeed a sad day for New York City.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: ARM YOURSELF WITH KNOWLEDGE

Here is the list of registered New York State registered sex offenders, searchable by name, address OR zip code:
http://criminaljustice.state.ny.us/SomsSUBDirectory/search_index.jsp

Here is the national sex offender registry, also searchable by name, address or zip code:
http://www.familywatchdog.us/

And here are all of the children in New York State who are missing: http://www.criminaljustice.state.ny.us/missing/alpha1.htm

Watch the NYPD’s statement here:

UPDATE 7/20/11:
From Reuters:
“The New York City Medical Examiner’s office said that Kletzky was drugged with antipsychotic pills, a muscle relaxant, pain relievers and Tylenol before he was smothered.
Prosecutors have begun presenting evidence to a grand jury in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn but declined to speculate on when an indictment might be returned. Aron has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and first-degree murder and was held without bail and placed on suicide watch.”

From Gothamist.com:

“Levi Aron, the man who confessed to killing and dismembering 8-year-old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzky last week, was handed down an eight-count indictmentincluding two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree kidnapping and one count of second-degree kidnapping – by a grand jury today.”

UPDATE 7/15/11: ARON LEVI IS ARRAIGNED, DEFENSE CLAIMS HE ‘HEARS VOICES’ AND REQUESTS A ‘730 EXAM’ (PENAL CODE BELOW), JUDGE DEEMS HE SHOULD BE ON SUICIDE WATCH

§ 730.10 Fitness to proceed; definitions. As used in this article, the following terms have the following meanings:
1. “Incapacitated person” means a defendant who as a result of mental disease or defect lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense.
2. “Order of examination” means an order issued to an appropriate director by a criminal court wherein a criminal action is pending against a defendant, or by a family court pursuant to section 322.1 of the family court act wherein a juvenile delinquency proceeding is pending against a juvenile, directing that such person be examined for the purpose of determining if he is an incapacitated person.

UPDATE 7/14/11: NYPD RELEASES LEVI ARON’S CONFESSION, EDITED TO REMOVE PARTS OF AN EXTREMELY GRAPHIC NATURE (THE UNEDITED CONFESSION WILL LIKELY NEVER BE RELEASED BUT IF IT IS, I WILL POST)

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Farming in Brooklyn Part One: Community Outreach with Cornell University

Red Hook Brooklyn's Added Value Farm Is Open For 2011 Season

Thursday, July 7th 2011 – Brooklyn, NY – Last Saturday I spent my first weekend of the season with Linda Marie Ameroso and Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension focusing on community outreach for Red Hook’s CSA, a supportive arm of Added Value. My involvement with Added Value began early in 2010 as a CSA member, buying in and getting a half share in 2010 (locally grown and sourced organic produce, herbs, eggs and fruit). Last fall, I was approached by the CSA core group to with the hopes of bolstering their community outreach. Added Value Farm fills CSA orders and provides nutritious foods to families in the 11231 zip code. The CSA Core Group consists of about a half a dozen people, each with a specific role who executes all of the needs of the CSA while interacting with and reporting directly to Added Value’s Ian Marvy and Kristen Shafenacker.

Our learning station, overseen by Brooklyn Food Coalition‘s David Buckel and Cornell University provides information about our “Vegetable of the Week” (available for purchase and locally grown), nutrition, diet, how to properly wash and prepare fruit and vegetables to avoid bacterial contamination, portions, steps to take to reduce sodium and easy recipes – in English and Spanish – featuring the vegetable of the week.

The Learning Station sign with market and CSA in background.

Learning station set up and ready for "Red Hook Walks The Talk" walking tours to stop by. Beyond the green beds, IKEA is visible in the background.

My favorite motto: “Make half of your plate plants!”

www.choosemyplate.gov

Do you want to save money – and be sure your food is safe – with your own homemade veggie wash spray? Get a spare spray bottle with a mix of 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar, 1 part lemon juice and a bit of salt or baking soda.  Then include a spritz when following the directions below.  Please note: it is not good to cut vegetable stems and then soak them in water as bacteria can travel into the vegetable and contaminate it from within.  A bowl of cold water and the repeated “dip” is a great way to be sure gravel on spinach and other greens doesn’t make it to your dinner plate.

Simple instructions. For example, cantaloupe needs a good scrub as it is typically houses bacteria on its skin. When you cut it and it isn't scrubbed, the knife "drags" the bacteria through the flesh of the fruit. A vegetable brush can be purchased anywhere from Crate & Barrel to a dollar store. To clean it when it gets funky, soak in a bleach and water solution. You can also do this when your sponge starts to smell or for dishes with tough stains.

My first veggie of the week: Bok Choy!

Also called Chinese cabbage, bok choy is an excellent source of calcium.

And with Added Value, which also provides vital work opportunities for teens including the green jobs of tomorrow (they learn about growing food, recycling, greenhouses and organic composting systems), I hope to make an impact in 2011 and build relationships with our healthy counterparts, as different from me as they may be, to strengthen our community’s health, diversity, sustainability, communication and education.

Why? According to the National Poverty Center and a 2008 University of Michigan’s findings, 19% of American youth lives in poverty (or 14.1 million individuals). The population of Red Hook is 11,000.  A large number – 8,000 –  live in the Red Hook houses (East and West combined).  The average annual salary for this population is $15,200.  According to the American Community Survey, “the 2009 nationwide poverty rate was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent, and that was the second statistically-significant annual increase since 2004”.  With 44 million people living in poverty, that’s about one in every seven Americans.  According to Sam Roberts, urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, “the official poverty definition is an income of $10,800 for a single adult, or $22,000 for a family of four.  In New York City the threshold for two adults and two children is $21,000.” He continues, “One of the interesting things about the poverty rate in New York City is if it had not been for food stamps, probably another 250 thousand New Yorkers would have been officially in poverty in 2009.”

And our challenge in 2011: how to get information “into” the Red Hook Houses to educate and inform its 8,000 residents about healthier eating, diet related disease and illness prevention and encourage them to shop at the farm market.  And if eligible, use SNAP, EBT and Food Stamp benefits to purchase good, affordable food locally.  Added Value’s Ian Marvy has said, “It’s driving home the idea of fresher food for less money, right down the block.”  Both the farm and CSA (although closed to new members until 2012) both accept food stamp benefits.  Interested parties should refer to www.snaptomarket.com and search by zip code to find nearby farm markets in their community that currently accept benefits.

For me, all of my notes taken and research begins here, as we see on July 2nd when our group engaged two community members who – animated as they are – are on the right track to good health and wellness.  What you’ll also see is an up-close-and-personal glimpse into the Learning Station’s goals in action.  Also, if you’re over the age of 51 or have anyone in your family with diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure or kidney disease, please be sure to share this video with them.  Besides, the women are hilarious and worth watching.  (Notably,”I ain’t dying.”)

A mother entertains her son with bubbles at the Children's Station. A scavenger hunt is also available for kids, with the prize being a lovely plant to take home and watch grow.

He caught me taking his picture.

Sylvie and Michael Shannon enjoy the Children's Station and do some drawing.

A patron of the farm market stocks up on locally sourced, organic produce and looks to be contemplating her next ingredient.

A community member weeds the vegetable beds at Red Hook, Brooklyn's Added Value Farm.

Visit the farm (map and location here) by taking the free IKEA ferry from Pier 17 in Manhattan.  Since IKEA is across the street from the farm, you can follow any of these directions to get there.  The farm is open from 9am to 4pm on Saturdays.  Compost welcome! I’ll be there on Saturday, July 9th from 9am until 1pm or so.  And the vegetable of the week: celery! Learn how to skillfully remove the string and pick up some produce for your own culinary experiments.  And remember, enjoy your food!