Thursday, July 14, 2011
With Vicious Murder Of Leiby Kletzky, NYC Parents Confront Worst Fears
They are the road rules of parenting, the self-defense tips of childhood, the maxims passed down for generations: Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t sit in the last car of the subway train. If you are lost, look for someone in a uniform. If something bad happens, scream!
Every day, parents put their faith in those rules and send their children, with a silent prayer, off into the world, trying to push away the knowledge that something bad could happen, as if thinking it would make it come true.
On Wednesday, it did come true for one Brooklyn family, as the body of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was found dismembered two days after he disappeared on a short walk between his day camp and where he was supposed to meet his parents. The boy, who had implored his parents for permission to walk home from camp alone, got lost and ran into a stranger who, the police said, kidnapped and killed him.
For parents across New York City, the tragedy set off a wave of fear, self-doubt and sometimes fatalism. The rules of parenting suddenly seemed flimsy, and the world became a scarier place, despite the relatively low crime rate.
“It hasn’t happened for a long time,” said Leslie Wolf-Creutzfeldt, a mother of two on the Upper West Side. “One feels kind of safe about the city, because there are so many people around. But if it happens to be a crazy person, then you realize, maybe, there’s nothing you can do.”
Raising children is a constant calculus. What age is too young for them to go out alone? When do you begin stunting their independence if you are overprotective?
A Hasidic woman who lived down the block from the slain boy, and whose husband helped with the search, wrestled with that balancing act.
When she sent her two sons to school on Wednesday morning, Leiby was fresh in her mind as she counseled them, “Don’t talk to strangers,” said the woman, who asked not to be named for fear of upsetting her neighbors. But, she said, “I don’t want to scare him too much either; I want him to like his life.” On the other hand, she said, when parents are overprotective, “kids feel love that way too.”
But police say there is no reason to panic.
“This is every parent’s nightmare, but this type of incident is extremely rare,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday.