Brooklyn Jewish community reeling over murder of 8-year-old Chassidic boy

The abduction and gruesome murder last week of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky while walking home from summer day camp in Brooklyn has left Boro Park’s tight-knit Chassidic community reeling, in part because the crime allegedly was committed by an apparently observant Jew.

Coverage of Leiby’s disappearance — which occurred on the first day his parents let him walk home alone from camp — and murder dominated headlines for days. This week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined thousands of others in visiting the Kletzky home during shiva.

Wearing a yarmulke, Bloomberg visited the family for about 15 minutes July 18 along with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is directing the investigation into the murder.

Community members, who had mobilized and prayed for Leiby during a frantic two-day search that began July 11, were in disbelief after hearing the news that the boy had been slain. The alleged killer, Levi Aron, 35, a community member, led police investigators to dismembered body parts in his freezer and in a trash bin a couple of miles away.

A Boro Park resident named Ephraim told the New York Jewish Week that the incident was a “a double murder — one was the child, and the other is the image of a Jew.”

At his arraignment July 13, Aron appeared disheveled, confused and pale as he pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder and kidnapping, despite his earlier confession to police. On July 20, he was indicted by a grand jury on eight counts of murder and kidnapping charges.

A medical examiner said July 20 that Leiby was smothered then dismembered after being given a cocktail of painkillers and muscle relaxants.

Aron’s attorney reportedly said his client hears voices, but Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes dismissed suggestions that the child’s killer was insane, according to the New York Daily News.

At the July 13 funeral, which drew thousands of mourners, Leiby’s father, Nachman Kletzky, said in Yiddish, “At least we had the merit of having him for nine years.”

In Jewish Brooklyn and beyond, parents debated the appropriate age to let a child walk around on his own. Orthodox parents talked about the challenge of imparting to children a healthy suspicion of strangers, even someone wearing a kippah, without casting a pall of fear over their kids’ interactions.

According to the New York Post, a woman who lives three doors from Aron said that the confessed killer once tried to kidnap her son, but that she screamed, scaring him away. Moreover,, citing a source described as close to the Shomrim neighborhood patrol, reported that Aron tried and failed to kidnap another boy a week before the Leiby murder.

Aron allegedly kidnapped Leiby after he asked for directions while walking home from day camp. Police and prosecutors continued to work on verifying his bizarre explanation for the boy’s death — in which he allegedly took Leiby to a wedding 35 miles away, then kept him in his apartment overnight due to a late return, then panicked the next day when he learned about the massive search for the boy.

According to the police version of the confession, Aron went to work July 12 and then returned to his home, where Leiby had remained, investigators said. Kelly said the hardware supply store where Aron worked confirmed that he showed up as usual that day.

“When I saw the fliers, I panicked and was afraid,” Aron said, according to police.

A police spokesman said detectives believe the boy was killed sometime late in the afternoon or early in the evening on July 12 after Aron returned home from work. Aron denied molesting the boy, but Kelly said police still consider that a possibility.

Detectives found the boy’s severed feet, wrapped in plastic, in Aron’s freezer, as well as a cutting board and three bloody carving knives. The rest of the boy’s body was discovered in bags inside a red suitcase in a trash bin.

Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Verena Dobnik and Chris Hawley and JTA writer Dan Klein contributed to this report.