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Monday, May 28, 2012

Etan Patz's alleged killer confessed to murder years ago, but church group, relatives told no one

Pedro Hernandez's wife Rosemary (r.) and daughter Becky leave their Maple Shade, N.J. home escorted by police officer.

Pedro Hernandez confessed decades ago to his church prayer group that he had strangled a boy — but no one, including his relatives and a spiritual leader, reported it to authorities.

His sister, Milagros Hernandez, 45, of Camden, N.J., revealed the family secret to the Daily News on Sunday — and on behalf of the 12 Hernandez brothers and sisters apologized to the parents of the 6-year-old boy he says he killed, Etan Patz.

“We are deeply sorry to the family if our brother had anything to do with this, and we are praying for them — that somehow they can find peace,” she said.

She recounted to The News how she had heard from an older sibling years ago that Pedro, in the 1980s, had confessed to a church prayer group that he had killed a child.

No one went to the cops or investigated his claim further, she said.

“The family stopped talking about it. It was like they just put it away and no one wanted to pay attention to it anymore,” she said.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Hernandez made his startling confession at St. Anthony of Padua, a Catholic church in Camden, N.J.

“He confessed to the group,” Thomas Rivera, who led the parish’s prayer meetings at the time, told the paper.

Rivera, 76, who was questioned by NYPD detectives last week and asked to keep quiet, said he did not contact police “because (Hernandez) did not confess to me” in a one-on-one setting, the paper reported.

Hernandez’s confession back then, when he was in his 20s, could be used by detectives to corroborate his recent admission to being Etan’s killer — which has been shrouded in doubt by his diagnoses of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Pedro Hernandez, who was an 18-year-old SoHo bodega stock boy in 1979 when Etan vanished, told cops last week that he killed the child on a sudden urge. Now 51 and unemployed, he was charged Friday with second-degree murder, despite questions about his mental state and a lack of physical evidence linking him to the boy.

His wife and daughter — reeling from his arrest in a sensational cold-case from 33 years ago — now fear they will become pariahs.

Rosemary and Becky Hernandez weren’t in their usual second-row seats for Sunday services at their Pentecostal church, but the flock prayed for them.

“The size of the shock, you have the idea (they must think), ‘Will people still love us?’ ” said the Rev. George Bowen, pastor of the Maranatha Christian Fellowship church in Moorestown, N.J.

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