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?