NEW YORK-- An 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who got lost while walking home alone from day camp in his Orthodox Jewish neighborhood was killed and dismembered by a stranger he had asked for directions, and his remains were found stuffed in a trash bin and the man's refrigerator, police said Wednesday.
The gruesome killing of Leiby Kletzy shocked the tight-knit Hasidic community in Borough Park, in part because it is one of the safest sections of the city and because the man under arrest is himself an Orthodox Jew.
A day-and-a-half search for the boy ended with the discovery of his severed feet inside a bloody freezer at the home of a man who was seen with the child on a surveillance video, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The rest of the remains were in the trash in another neighborhood.
"It is every parent's worst nightmare," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
The 35-year-old suspect, Levi Aron, implicated himself in the killing, Kelly said.
Police said there was no evidence the boy was sexually assaulted, but they would not otherwise shed any light on a motive except to say Aron told them he "panicked" when he saw photos of the missing boy on fliers that were distributed in the neighborhood. Police were looking into whether Aron had a history of mental illness.
Detectives were still questioning him Wednesday afternoon, and no immediate charges were filed. It was not clear whether he had an attorney. The medical examiner's office was working to determine how the boy was killed.
The Hasidim are ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in somewhat insular neighborhoods. The streets are policed by a group of volunteers known as the Shomrim patrol. Many of the mothers who gathered outside the Kletzy family home Wednesday said the streets are normally safe enough for a child to walk home alone.
Adel Erps, like other neighbors, expressed shock the suspect was Jewish. "He's a sick person obviously, but it hurts so much more," she said.
Aron's family was Orthodox but not Hasidic, and he lives about a dozen blocks away from the Kletzky family. When detectives arrived at his 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 opened it to discover bloody knives, a cutting board and feet inside, according to the law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on.
Aron told police where to find the rest of the body, and it was discovered wrapped in a plastic bag inside a red suitcase that had been tossed into a trash bin in another Brooklyn neighborhood, Kelly said.
Police and volunteers had been looking since late Monday afternoon for Leiby, who disappeared while on his way to meet his mother on a street corner seven blocks from his day camp. This was the first time he was allowed to walk the route alone; his parents had taken him on a practice run on Friday.
The break in the case came when investigators watched a grainy video that showed the boy, wearing his backpack, getting into a car with a man outside a dentist's office. Police said the boy had evidently missed a turn and gotten lost.
Detectives tracked the dentist down at his home in New Jersey, and he remembered someone coming to pay a bill for a patient. Police identified Aron using records from the office, and 40 minutes later he was arrested.
Police said Aron lives alone in the attic, in a building shared with his father and uncle. When they arrived, the door was ajar. It's not clear how long the boy had been dead, Kelly said.
Kelly said it was "totally random" that Aron grabbed the boy, and aside from a summons for urinating in public, he had no criminal record.
He lived most of his life in New York and worked as a clerk at a hardware supply store around the corner form his home, but spent about two years living in Memphis, Tenn., authorities said. Co-workers said Aron was at work on Tuesday.
"He seemed a little troubled," said employee Chamin Kramer, who added Aron usually came and went quietly.
Shimmy Kaplan, 35, a construction worker, said he and Aron grew up together and went to the same synagogue. He described him as "quiet, a loner, I guess."
"Never in a million years" would he have suspected him of such a gruesome crime, he said.
The Hasidic sect abides 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 long locks of hair in front of each ear. Most of the 165,000 members in the New York City the area live in Brooklyn and belong to three sects. Hasidism traces its roots to 18th-century Eastern Europe.
"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 parents have 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."