A Brooklyn man accused of abducting a young boy from a street corner this week and later chopping him up into small pieces was charged with first degree murder and kidnapping in a New York court last night while the Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood where the victim lived struggled to grasp the horror of his death.
The suspect, Levi Aron, 35, entered no plea and was held without bail. He had reportedly already given a written confession, obtained by a local NBC station and posted on its web site. “I understand this may be wrong and I’m sorry for the hurt that I have caused,” he wrote. Police are investigating whether he might be behind other unsolved child killings or disappearances.
Hours after the dismembered body of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky, the son of a Hasidic Jewish family, was found by police in two locations, thousands of mourners gathered in the Borough Park neighbourhood of Brooklyn for his funeral service. Straining to hear a service in Hebrew and Yiddish, the congregation of mostly Hasidic Jews – men with beards and black hats and women in modest black clothing – filled the streets for several blocks.
The child, who was soon to turn nine, vanished on Monday afternoon after leaving a summer camp not far from his home. He had received permission from his parents for the first time to make some of the walk home on his own, having earlier memorised the route with them. It seems he missed a turning, got lost and eventually asked a stranger for directions. The man he chose to trust, police say, was Mr Aron.
"It's gruesome, it's an absolute horror, really, it can make you sick. This is the worst possible conclusion," said Dov Hifkind, a member of the state assembly who has represented Borough Park for three decades. The crime was the most shocking he had seen in all those years, but he said he was proud of the response of his community.
People from other mostly Jewish enclaves as far away as Boston, upstate New York and New Jersey had rushed to Brooklyn 36 hours earlier to join the search for the boy after his family reported him missing. The area quickly filled with voluntary search groups and was festooned with flyers.
The news that he had been found dead and, perhaps almost as shocking to some, that the man accused of his murder was also Jewish, came unexpectedly quickly. The killing has upended a jealously held belief among residents of Borough Park that theirs is one of the safest areas in New York City, in part because the Jewish community has its own neighbourhood watch supplementing police patrols.
Investigators got an early break after obtaining surveillance video tapes clearly showing a lost Leiby Kletzky approaching the suspect. Mr Aron then briefly stopped by a dentist's office to pay a bill before heading off with the boy in his car.
According to his confession, he took him to a wedding that evening north of the city before returning to his attic apartment in his parent's house later that same evening.
After tracking Mr Aron with help from the dentist's office, police arrived at the apartment in the early hours of yesterday. When they asked where the boy was, Mr Aron allegedly pointed to his fridge. It had blood on the handle and the police found the feet of the victim inside, as well as two knives and a chopping board. The suspect directed them to a skip in another part of Brooklyn where they found a suitcase containing the rest of the boy's body parts.
Police said that they had no evidence the child had been sexually abused and had not been able to find a motive for the killing. In his alleged confession note, however, Mr Aron suggests that he smothered the boy with a towel after realising that his entire neighbourhood was searching for the missing boy.
"When I saw the flyers I panicked and was afraid. When I got home he was still there so I made him a tuna sandwich... I was still in a panic... and afraid to bring him home. That is when I went for a towel to smother him in the side room. He fought back a little bit until eventually he stopped breathing."
The suspect, who is divorced, was employed by a Brooklyn building supplies company and apparently turned up for work as normal on Tuesday. His boss, Michael Panzer, described Mr Aron as a little "emotionally disturbed", but there had been nothing about to him to hint at what he is alleged to have done. He displayed "nothing to give any sign of anything happening," he added.
During his married years, Mr Aron lived in Tennessee where he worked, among other things, as a butcher.