NEW YORK - A Brooklyn man reportedly told police that he spent more than 12 hours with a young Orthodox Jewish boy -- including taking him to a wedding just outside New York City -- before smothering and dismembering him in a panic.
Levi Aron, 35, detailed the time he spent with Leiby Kletzky, 8, and allegedly confessed to killing the boy in a 450-word statement obtained by WNBC-TV, NBC News reports.
"I understand this may be wrong and I'm sorry for the hurt that I have caused," Aron told police, according to NBC News.
Kletzky was walking home alone from day camp for the first time Monday and disappeared while on his way to meet his mother on a street corner seven blocks away. Authorities said he had evidently gotten lost after missing a turn, and had reached out to Aron, a stranger, for help.
According to the obtained statement, Aron told police he wanted a ride to a bookstore but then lost interest.
"So I asked if he wanted to go for the ride -- (a) wedding in Monsey -- since I didn't think I was going to stay for the whole thing since my back was hurting. He said OK," Aron told police.
They returned to Aron's home around 11:20 p.m. Monday night and watched television before going to sleep in separate rooms, Aron told police. Police said Aron, who is divorced, lives alone in an attic in a building shared with his father and uncle.
Aron told police he planned to return Kletzky to his home Tuesday.
Apparently unaware that a search was already in progress for the boy, Aron left his home Tuesday to find photos of the missing boy on fliers distributed in the neighborhood.
"When I saw the flyers I panicked and was afraid," he told police. "I was still in 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."
Now with the body of a dead boy in his home, he told police he panicked again "because I didn't know what to do with the body." He detailed to police how he dismembered the body.
A day-and-a-half search led police to Aron's home after midnight Wednesday morning after seeing him on a surveillance video with the child. They asked: Where is the boy?
The man nodded toward the kitchen, authorities said, where blood stained the freezer door. Inside was the stuff of horror films -- severed feet, wrapped in plastic. In the refrigerator, a cutting board and three bloody carving knives. A plastic garbage bag with bloody towels was nearby.
"It is every parent's worst nightmare," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday, following the Aron's arrest on a charge of second-degree murder.
The gruesome killing shocked the tight-knit Hasidic community in Borough Park, in part because it is one of the safest sections of the city and because Aron is himself an Orthodox Jew, although not Hasidic. The Hasidim are ultra-Orthodox Jews.
"This is a no-crime area," said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose district includes the area. "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."
While the medical examiner's office said it was still investigating how the boy was killed, the body was released so that the boy could be buried Wednesday evening according to Jewish custom.
Thousands gathered around a Borough Park synagogue for the funeral service. Speakers broadcast over a loudspeaker, chanting and speaking in Yiddish and Hebrew. They stressed the community's resilience and unity after what one called an unnatural death
"This is not human," said Moses Klein, 73, a retired caterer who lives near the corner where the boy was last seen.
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. Detectives tracked the dentist down at his home in New Jersey, and he remembered someone coming to pay a bill. Police identified Aron using records from the office, and 40 minutes later he was arrested, shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Aron told police where to find the rest of the body; it was in pieces, wrapped in plastic bags, inside a red suitcase that had been tossed into a trash bin in another Brooklyn neighborhood, Kelly said.
Police said there was no evidence the boy was sexually assaulted. Police were looking into whether Aron had a history of mental illness.
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. A neighbor told authorities her son had said Aron had once tried to lure him into his car, but nothing happened and she didn't think much of it until the news of the killing, police said.
"He seemed a little troubled," said employee Chamin Kramer, who added Aron usually came and went quietly.
Aron lived briefly in Memphis, Tenn., and his ex-wife, Deborah Aron, still lives in the area. She said he never showed signs of violence toward her two children from a previous relationship.
"It's utter disbelief," she said from the toy-littered backyard of her home in the Memphis suburb of Germantown. "This ain't the Levi I know."
Deborah Aron said the couple divorced about four years ago after a year of marriage. She described Levi Aron as a person who was shy until he got to know you and said he enjoyed music, karaoke and "American Idol." She said he attended Orthodox Jewish services in Memphis.
He was "more of a mother's boy than a father's boy," who lived at home until he met her, she said.
She said Levi injured his head when he was hit by a car while riding his bike at the age of 9 and suffered problems stemming from that accident.