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14 July 2011

The Senseless Death of Leiby Kletzky

An old Central Avenue bus,
perhaps even the one I rode on that day.
It was one of the most amazing days I can remember as a kid. 

Sometime in the Summer of 1984 -- I was just 9 -- I kiddingly asked my mom if I could take the Central Avenue bus to Burger King so I could bring back everyone breakfast biscuits. Amazingly, she said yes.

The journey would require me to walk half-a-block from our home on North Street in the Jersey City Heights to Central Avenue to the bus stop. Then, when I got off the bus, all I had to do was cross the street to go into BK. And that's exactly what I did. 

For the first time -- at 9, mind you -- mom allowed me to go for breakfast for everyone, BY MY LONESOME! I felt like I could conquer the world that day. What an enormous amount of independence for a 9-year-old kid. 

Amazingly, this wasn't the last time I did this. She'd even let me go to CH Martin's -- in the same area as the BK -- because I loved to get office supplies. These, of course, were the days before Staples and Office Depot, so most office supplies were had at five-and-dime stores.

As I got older, that same independence grew. The summer before 9th grade, mom would allow me to go, by bus and by PATH, from our place in Kearny to the Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City. I was 13. 

Kletzky-NYPD photo
This independence reminded me of the same sort of independence the parents of little Leiby Kletzky, 8, of Brooklyn, gave him just Monday. The boy convinced his mom -- despite his autism -- to allow him to walk home, half-way, by himself.

Only unlike my moments of independence, little Leiby lost his way, only to end up asking a man for directions home, a man who would ultimately wind up kidnapping him, suffocating him to death, and then chopping up his entire body into pieces.  The sicko who killed him, Levi Aron, who turns 35 today, says he had always planned to bring the boy home -- but he freaked when he saw the "missing" posters plastered all over their Brooklyn neighborhood. 

Thanks to a surveillance camera, police were able to track Aron down to a dentist's office. And when they first approached him at his apartment, he head-nodded toward his freezer, where cops found the boy's feet individually wrapped in ziplock bags. The rest of his body, dismembered, was found in that now-infamous suitcase in front of that now-infamous auto shop -- in the same neighborhood.

It may have been 25 years ago when my mom granted me so much independence. Yet I could have very well been another Leiby. But my how times have changed since 1985. Were I a parent, I'm not sure I'd ever let my 8-year-old kid walk home from anywhere without an adult.

Sadly, it often takes tragedies like Leiby's to realize this. But it's a reality.

The face of a monster.
All little Leiby wanted to do was demonstrate he was a big boy and could handle walking home. In the cruelest of ways, he met his fate the very day he was granted that permission. The only person he stopped to talk with that day was the same person who took his life in the most heinous of ways.

And because of that, he's now gone.

Leiby's dad said, at the boy's funeral, that their family had been blessed with nearly 9 years of having Leiby in their lives. And boy he couldn't have it it more aptly.

In the process, we were rudely and forcefully reminded that as smart and as independent as any child is, all it takes is one demented psychopath to bring an unnecessary end to a young boy's life.

Leiby taught his family many lessons, no doubt, in his 8-plus years on this earth.

And he's also taught the greater world many lessons now by pure chance.

May he forever serve as a reminder of how fragile human life is. And may he forever serve as a reminder of just how crucial it is to protect our children -- even if they feel they're ready to go at it alone.

The risks are just too high these days.

Rest in Peace forever, Leiby. 

Rest in Peace.


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