Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly accurately described it as, “Every parent’s worst nightmare.”

Nine-year-old Leiby Kletzky of Boro Park, Brooklyn finally convinced his mother that he was old enough to walk home alone from day camp. It was only seven short blocks to their home, and she had gone over the route with him beforehand to make sure.

Only he never made it home Monday evening.

His family called the police when he didn’t arrive home. Literally thousands of volunteers combed every inch of the blocks between his home and the day camp.

The break came when Leiby was spotted on a surveillance video, talking to a man outside a dentist’s office. It seems that Leiby had made a wrong turn on his way home and asked for directions. Then Leiby got into the man’s car, a Honda sedan.

The dental office was already closed for the night, but determined police detective work helped them track down both the dentist, who didn’t live in New York, and his receptionist. They went into the office and examined the dentist’s patient records.

The search ended in the early hours of Wednesday morning at an attic apartment not far from the boy’s home. The person of interest made a full confession to the police, including information about where the boy’s body could be found.

He confessed that he had killed the boy.

Other than a minor offense, he had no prior arrest record, no accusations or allegations against him. There were no hints. No one could have known in advance that he would commit a crime like that.

We live in a dangerous world. Even in a tight-knit community, children can get badly hurt.

How do we protect our children? We can’t keep them in a bubble forever. Keeping them in a bubble would be even more dangerous, because once out of the bubble they wouldn’t know how to stay safe.

The only solution that works is to drill children in an age-appropriate manner never to talk to strangers, never ever to get into anyone’s car, to not allow themselves to be snatched up, to not go inside anyone’s house, even someone who speaks Yiddish or Ivrit or Russki or looks Chassidishe or is wearing a yarmulke or long payos “just like them.”

It also has been suggested that a child in trouble can be told to “trust a mother,” that is, if the child sees a mom with a stroller and/or young children of her own, that the child can ask the mom for help (but not a strange adult without children).

Jewish mothers have been accused of being overprotective. But when are we not being protective enough? Every concerned parent has to find this balance between watching over a child and allowing a child independence. When is a child old enough to walk by himself/herself to a friend’s house? To cross the street alone? To babysit for a neighbor’s child? To stay home alone one night? To ride the city bus or the subway? To walk home from the park, or from school, or from day camp? To walk with a group of other young people home from shul or from a Shalom Zachor late on a Friday night?

We can’t lace our children into armor or insert electronic tracking chips into their shoulders. We can try to arm our children with common sense and a sense of self-protection, to yell or run away, to not allow anyone to touch them in the wrong place, even someone they know, to tell their parents anytime they feel afraid or when told to “keep a secret.”

Regrettably, there are those of our own, those who look like Orthodox Jews and dress like Orthodox Jews and talk like Orthodox Jews, who can and do commit such crimes against children.

Hopefully the monster who did this will be locked up in prison for the rest of his life. It won’t bring back Leiby Kletzky, but will prevent any other children from being this person’s victims.

Can we prevent the next tragedy?

12 comments on “Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

  1. To Chana Leah #10: I would never presume to imply that all medications do what they are meant to do. There is too much empirical evidence out there that certain medications are not doing what they are meant to do, and in fact are causing unwanted harmful side effects.

    A friend’s elderly mother was put on Fosamax. The drug made her bones too brittle and she wound up with an unusual case of broken hip (the hip broke not from a fall but simply from twisting her body around the wrong way).

    My husband was on Avandia for his diabetes, but had to be taken off that drug due to findings linking it to a higher incidence of heart attacks.

    My friend Mindy, born in 1955, is a “DES daughter.” Her mother took diethylstilbestrol during her pregnancy with Mindy because DES was supposed to prevent miscarriages. Sadly enough, while there is no evidence that taking DES ever lessened the miscarriage rate, there is now plenty of scientific evidence that “DES daughters” years later have all kinds of bad health problems. Mindy has to go continually for health checkups due to being a “DES daughter,” and there is even some evidence that “DES grandchildren” are affected.

    Fosamax, Avandia and DES are just three of the many drugs that I know of which unfortunately did not do what they were supposed to do and did a lot of harm that they were not supposed to do.

    So I have no illusions that all medications work all of the time for everyone.

  2. There’s also a question of what we should do if we see a child who seems lost. It’s probably different for a man than a woman. If it happened to me, I might be very tempted to tell the kid that I’ll give him a ride home, but obviously this is a problem since he should’ve been taught not to take rides from strangers, and sadly today, it also means frum strangers.
    So I guess I would pull out my cell phone and ask him for his number. If he doesn’t know it, then I would ask his last name and find a phone book in a store somewhere. I wouldn’t leave him, but do I need to call Shomrim, or the police?
    Times have changed, haven’t they?

  3. Judy, in your list of reasons why a patient might stop taking medication you neglected one very important fact: many people, with either physical or mental illness, stop taking medications because they don’t feel better–the medications don’t work. And that can be AFTER trying alternatives as well. I think it’s presumptuous to imply that all medications do what they are meant to do.

  4. I’m not sure that I agree with comment #3, advising a lost child to go into a nearby store or restaurant. You don’t really know who’s behind the counter. Unlike a bank or a library, where the employees are generally educated people who take pride in career advancement, the low-level cooks and cashiers at most stores and restaurants are uneducated laborers who drift from job to job. After all, Levi Aron worked at a hardware supply store. What would have happened if a lost child had walked into his store and no one else was around to see them? I’m not trying to sound like a snob here, but I don’t agree that a lost child would be safe walking into a restaurant or store and asking for help. A bank or a library or a firehouse, yes.

  5. “Are there other men, hidden in our communities, who are capable of hurting our children? If there are, how do we identify them before they hurt our children? Are we able to do so without stigmatizing the innocent?”

    David Mandel of Ohel spoke about this on Friday on “JM in the AM” (see link below to archive of 7/15/11 show, beginning 2:39 on the audio). According to him, only a small percentage of the mentally-ill population hears voices, and/or murders like Levy Aron, the majority being able to manage their lives.

    As far as law-enforcement keeping a database, I imaagine that there would be legal issues to overcome. There was a Daily News report last week that Shomrim in NYC has its own database of 15 suspected molesters. Perhaps people who have actually shown violent psychotic tendencies should also be added to the list under such a communal monitoring system.


  6. Are there more guys like Levi Aron out there?

    Are there other men, hidden in our communities, who are capable of hurting our children? If there are, how do we identify them before they hurt our children? Are we able to do so without stigmatizing the innocent?

    What about those individuals who have been diagnosed with mental illness? The great majority of people with mental illness keep their conditions under control with appropriate medication and treatment, and live perfectly normal lives. These adults who handle their conditions responsibly and take their medications regularly are no more likely to commit a crime than a person without mental illness.

    But what about those individuals with mental illness who do not take their medicines as prescribed? What about those who stop taking their medications out of a false feeling of wellness, or due to the expense of co-payment or other financial reasons, or just out of reluctance to go back to the doctor and get a prescription refilled?

    Should we insist that law enforcement officials keep a secure database of all individuals with certain mental illnesses? Or is that a violation of some very fundamental rights to privacy?

    Levi Aron was never previously diagnosed with any mental illness, so such a database would not have prevented this crime, or facilitated in any way the capture of the perpetrator. In other words, it would have been totally useless in this situation and might even have resulted in false leads that could have allowed the real perp to avoid getting caught.

    But, are our children in danger from individuals with mental illness who skip their doctors’ visits and do not adhere to their prescribed treatment?

    Or, are our children in more danger from “normal” people (those without a diagnosed mental illness) who just “snap” out of anger, or those with poor impulse control, or those with latent tendencies toward being around younger adults?

    Should we make up a database of traits we consider possibly dangerous (divorced men whose ex-wives found them “creepy” or abusive, men with arrest records for assault or battery, men who were fired from rebbe or counselor jobs) and utilize it to track for possible predators?

    I don’t know how we can ultimately prevent all future hurts against our children.

  7. While Rabbi Eisenman has a point that we are all wrapped up in our own selves, Boro Park is a very safe place and if I had passed a 9-yr old walking down 44th, I wouldn’t have thought much about it. The parents certainly did nothing wrong, and it was a gezerah, as was pointed out. Daven, daven and then some more, that your kids are always safe.

    The only time Boro Park isn’t a safe place is for that evil guy, as was pointed out on one of the blogs, that they should let him free and make him stand on 13th Ave for an hour…then the authorities wouldn’t need to worry about him again. Let’s petition the department.

  8. R Y Horowitz and Dr N Blumenthal both discussed this terrible tragedy and how parents should discuss the same and various means of prevention of the same R”L. R Feiner of the White Shul has suggested that our proper focus should not be on whatever revelations are in the news media, but rather the amazing display of Achdus in the search, and at the Levayah. I would add that looking for theodicy based solutions such as if we more careful with Mitzvah X strike me IMO as simplistic. For a compelling alternative POV, see R R Y Eisenman from Passaic’s perspective in one of his Short Vorts.

  9. Any generalized set of guidelines for the parents and children (and good orientations can be had from various sources such as Rabbi Horowitz) has to be adapted by the family to the particular situations and natures of the family members.

  10. A good friend and wise mentor shared this advice with me:
    Parents-Teach your children that if they get lost they should go into a store/restaurant. Ask the counter person to call the parent. All children should have their parents’ phone numbers and address on them. If parents cannot be reached, ask the counter person to contact Shomrim, Police, etc.

  11. Its a disservice to children to teach them not to talk to strangers. It confuses them, because when they need help, we are telling them they SHOULD talk to a stranger. It also makes them afraid of everyday interactions with strangers unless a parent pre-approves the conversation. That really limits their ability to grow and discern what kind of people they are speaking to, developing their own good judgement.

    My opinion is to point out which ‘uniforms’ or ‘places’ are a safe place to go when you are lost – ie. police uniform, firefighter, a mother with children, or places like a firehouse, library, bank, etc. Teach them their phone number and address, their full name. Teach them that walking tall, using your eyes to look around you, and speaking with a presence, makes you someone a predator wants to avoid.

    And most of all, for parents, we shouldn’t let this particular tragedy make us forget that strangers are the least likely culprits out there. We need to preserve some perspective on this. This tragedy was not preventable, however horrific it is.

  12. Staying away from strangers isn’t a foolproof solution. It is well known that most molesters are people in a child’s intimate circle–family members, friends, etc. There is no way to be completely safe. This was a gezeira on poor Leiby O”H. I don’t think his behavior was out of line or that his family was negligent.

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