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.
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.
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:
Here is the national sex offender registry, also searchable by name, address or zip code:
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:
“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.”
“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 indictment—including 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.