By COLLEEN LONG
NEW YORK — A young Brooklyn boy who vanished while walking home from a day camp in one of the safest parts of the city was killed and dismembered by a stranger he had turned to for help after getting lost, police said today.
An intense search for the missing 8-year-old, Leiby Kletzky, ended with the gruesome discovery of pieces of his dismembered body inside the home of a man who had been seen with the child around the time he disappeared, police said.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the 35-year-old suspect, Levi Aron, made statements implicating himself in the boy’s death. Formal charges are pending. The investigation continued, and Kelly said Aron was still being interviewed by detectives. It’s not clear if he had an attorney, and the home he shared with his parents was a crime scene today, and his parents were not there.
When detectives arrived at the man’s attic apartment around 2:40 a.m., they asked him where the boy was and he nodded toward the kitchen, Kelly said.
Detectives saw blood on the freezer door and they opened it to discover bloody knives, a cutting board and feet inside, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The rest of the body was found inside a red suitcase that had been tossed into a trash bin in another Brooklyn neighborhood, police said.
Police and volunteers had been looking since late Monday afternoon for Leiby, who disappeared while on his way to meet his mother in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park.
Kelly said the boy’s parents had taken him through the route on Friday, and he was to walk the seven blocks from the camp to meet his mother. He left at about 5:05 p.m., and got lost.
The break in the case came when investigators focused on a grainy surveillance video that showed the boy, wearing his backpack, walking down the street with a man.
Detectives noticed the man going into a nearby dentist’s office as the boy stood outside, Kelly said.
The boy is shown in the footage outside the dentist’s office for about seven minutes, and then is seen getting into Aron’s brown Honda sedan about 35 minutes later.
The dentist, located later in New Jersey, said he remembered someone coming by to pay a bill for a patient, and police were able to identify Aron using records from the office.
When they went to his home, they made the gruesome discovery.
Police said Aron lives alone in the attic, in a building shared with his parents and uncle. He once had a summons for urinating in public but otherwise did not have a criminal record, Kelly said.
Aron has lived most of his life in New York, working as a clerk at a maintenance supply company in Brooklyn, but spent about two years living in Memphis, Tenn., where he worked briefly, Kelly said.
Kelly said detectives were investigating whether he had a history of mental illness. He told investigators he panicked when he saw fliers with the boy’s pictures on it, Kelly said. Kelly said there was no evidence of a sexual assault, and said it didn’t seem like Aron had ever seen the child before.
“It is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Kelly said.
Outside the family’s apartment building this morning, men and women from the community clustered in separate groups. Many of the mothers gathered there said the streets are safe enough for a child Leiby’s age to walk home alone.
“This is a no-crime area,” said State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose district includes the area. He said the boy was the only son of the Kletzky family. The couple has four daughters, and the husband works as a driver for a private car service.
“Everybody is absolutely horrified,” he said. “Everyone is in total shock, beyond belief, beyond comprehension ... to suddenly disappear and then the details ... and the fact someone in the extended community ... it’s awful,” he said.
Aron lived about a mile away from the boy and was believed to be Orthodox.
The medical examiner’s office will determine a cause of death and positive identification.
Leiby was one of the neighborhood’s many Hasidic Jews, an ultra-Orthodox people who live in tight-knit, somewhat insular communities and abide by strict religious rules that require men to wear dark clothing that includes a long coat and a fedora-type hat. Men often have long beards and ear locks.
Most of the 165,000 members in the New York City the area live in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and are part of three different sects. Hasidism traces its roots to 18th-century Eastern Europe.
A $100,000 reward had been offered, Hikind said the outpouring of support had been tremendous with people from all over the state volunteering their time to scour the neighborhood and hand out flyers.
Adel Erps, who lives two blocks from the family, said she was very upset because the state of the body means it will be more difficult to do a proper burial. Like other neighborhood residents congregating near the boy’s home Wednesday, she expressed shock that the suspect was Jewish.
“He’s a sick person obviously, but it hurts so much more,” she said.
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews contributed to this report.