Guests at Monday's wedding of Yakov Morsel and Dina Munk in New Square already knew that an 8-year-old Hasidic boy had vanished earlier in the day in Brooklyn. What they didn't know was that the man who would be accused of the boy's gruesome killing was in their midst — and that he may have locked the child in his car in the catering hall's parking lot off Route 45.
Brooklyn slay suspect was stranger to most at New Square wedding
Shawn Cohen and Steve Lieberman • Journal News
Guests at Monday's wedding of Yakov Morsel and Dina Munk in New Square already knew that an 8-year-old Hasidic boy had vanished earlier in the day in Brooklyn.
What they didn't know was that the man who would be accused of the boy's gruesome killing was in their midst — and that he may have locked the child in his car in the catering hall's parking lot off Route 45.
It wasn't until two days later that police charged Levi Aron, a cousin of the bride, with suffocating Leiby Kletsky and cutting up his body, putting his feet in his freezer and dumping a suitcase of body parts on the street.
"Almost immediately, hundreds of thousands of people were aware that a little boy was missing and were praying for him," Eva Gross of Far Rockaway, a neighbor and close friend of the bride and her family, told The Journal News. "Everybody who went to the wedding went with a heavy heart. None of us in the wider Jewish community could have any peace of mind while this was going on."
Aron, 35, a twice-divorced hardware store clerk, was not known to most guests at the Ateres Charna wedding hall. He would later tell New York City police that he took Leiby to the wedding before returning home to Brooklyn and killing him the next day.
Police were confident that Aron attended, saying several guests confirmed he was there. NYPD detectives have copied the catering hall's 14 surveillance tapes from the wedding to try to learn if the boy went inside.
Celebrants said they doubt Leiby — who was wearing a casual striped shirt when he was abducted on a walk home from camp — entered because he would have stood out; the other boys were all sharing a table and wearing white shirts and dark jackets, traditional Orthodox Jewish garb.
There were about two dozen children among the 450 guests, which included large contingents of family, friends and neighbors of the groom in Monsey and the bride's hometown of Far Rockaway, Queens. The couple, who got engaged in 2009, met through Munk's grandfather, who lives in Morsel's neighborhood.
Men and women, who assembled separately according to Orthodox tradition, danced to a live band that played into the night. The ceremony began at 6:30 p.m and continued until 1 a.m., though Aron told police he left early and got home to Brooklyn about 11:30 p.m.
Several attendees said they had no idea Aron was there or even who he was until his arrest Wednesday on felony murder and kidnapping charges. They didn't learn until Thursday that he may have come with the boy.
"It was extremely upsetting," said Gross, who doesn't know Aron. "Does anybody know the extended relatives of neighbors?"
Neighbors in Monsey, including the Morsel family, didn't want the wedding associated with the brutal murder and were reluctant to discuss the unsettling connection to the case.
Aron also went through two weddings of his own, having been married twice without any children.
Memphis, Tenn., resident Debbie Kivel said Friday that she met Aron in 2005 via Internet sites aimed at bringing Jewish singles together.
They spoke by telephone for several months before meeting in November 2005 when she flew into New York City. She said they got engaged in February 2006 and married the next month, when they got an apartment in Memphis.
Kivel, the mother of two children, ages 10 and 13, ended the marriage that September. Aron, she said, persisted in trying to reconcile, refusing to give her a Jewish divorce called a "get."
"At the advice of a longtime family friend, I got a court order that he would stop calling me," Kivel said in a strong southern drawl, using Yiddish words. "He wanted to make it work — and we did have a couple of counseling sessions. I couldn't handle him anymore."
But never for a second did she think her ex-husband capable of killing and dismembering a boy.
"I was totally shocked and devastated, more for the child and his family than for Levi," Kivel said Friday while listening to a television report on the investigation. "That's not Levi — not the Levi I knew. He was always helpful if somebody needed help."
She called Aron "shy" until he got comfortable with people. "When he opened up he talked a lot," she said. "He's a funny guy, always making jokes."
She said Aron loved "American Idol" and karaoke, telling her on July 4 about his dream to get on the talent show.
"It was same old Levi making jokes he was into 'American Idol,'" Kivel said.
She said Aron was religious in that he kept kosher and kept the Sabbath when they were together.
Her two children came from her first marriage, to a non-Jewish man, which she said didn't sit well with Aron. But he was never violent with her or them, she said.
"He loved spending time with the family and on Shabbat," she said. "He was always upset that my kids had to go to their father every other weekend."
Aron is in jail on suicide watch and will undergo a psychiatric evaluation after his lawyer said he hears voices and has hallucinations.
"That's not the Levi I knew," Kivel said. "I don't know him anymore, given what's happened."
His first marriage — to an Israeli woman who came to the United States in 2002 for her daughter's liver transplant — ended in divorce in August 2005, according to reports. That woman is in prison for stealing $1.7 million from a diamond company, according to reports.