Thousands of people crammed into a Borough Park, Brooklyn, synagogue and the adjacent blocks Wednesday night to mourn the death of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who was found murdered and dismembered early Wednesday morning.
Leiby had asked his parents to let him walk home alone from day camp on Monday. They said they would meet him half-way, about seven blocks from his camp. But Leiby missed a turn and was abducted, setting off the frantic manhunt that consumed not only Borough Park’s ultra-Orthodox community but several others in the region.
The tight-knit community is in shock.
“I woke up to the news,” said 25-year-old Barry Fink, who was one of hundreds of volunteers who spent many of the prior 36 hours trying to find the boy. “I was devastated. I have a kid myself, and to imagine someone killing and cutting up a kid, it’s – I don’t want to think about it. And when I hear the details on the news I just cry.”
Police have arrested 35-year-old Levy Aron, who faces murder charges. They say he confessed to taking and killing the boy. Aron remains in police custody.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly characterized Aron as Orthodox. Many people in the community said they could picture a lost young boy asking for help from someone who looks similar to other adult men in the neighborhood. Parents and grandparents in this very family-oriented neighborhood said the boy’s loss hit them especially hard.
“I would not think this story in our community to happen,” said Adina Naamah, who has a grandson the same age as the murdered boy. “We have to be scared to leave for a second the children – to send to the store, to buy something, just a grocery, a few steps away. It’s very, very scary.”
The police say the suspect has no record as a pedophile. So far, there’s no evidence that Aron molested the boy, but it could take a week or more to get toxicology reports.
The ultra-Orthodox community has grappled with sexual abuse scandals in recent years, much like the Catholic church, so people in Borough Park are primed to think it played a role here. Senior rabbis in the community wield a great amount of power. They have been reluctant to speak about sexual abuse – and have denounced those who do.
But several people said they hope the Kletzky murder will get the community to consider the crime in a way it never has, and take more steps to prevent and prosecute it – whether or not it turns out to be related to sexual abuse.
“It’s really started to change,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind. “I’m not going to tell you huge, but around the edges. This tragedy will take us a long way, there’s no question about it, because people realize: we got to protect our kids.”
In this deeply religious community – where nearly everyone dresses traditionally, prays daily and upholds dietary and other Biblical laws – people say they can’t help but focus on all the unanswered prayers.
“We prayed for something, and God didn’t ignore us,” said Chaya Faige, who runs a residential and social service program for the mentally ill. “He said ‘No.’ This was his answer. Why this was his answer? I don’t know. And instead of questioning why it happened, we’re trying to give each other support to get through whatever it is we’re supposed to experience now.”
Faige and others say the only thing they can do is keep praying to God for strength, for themselves and the Kletzky family, for peace for little Leiby Kletzky, wherever he may be, and for justice for the murderer who killed him.