Most folks found out from the news that yesterday the remains of a little boy were found in a dumpster in the Greenwood Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. I found out because I was there.
I'd stayed with a friend in the neighborhood the previous night after going to a concert, and when I tried to leave the building Wednesday morning I walked right into the crime scene. A police van was parked right outside the entrance and yellow tape blocked my exit on both sides. I remember thinking there had probably been a car accident on the street. Some neighbors on the stoop pointed me toward a possible way out, but when I tried to walk that way I was roundly berated by a cop, who asked me various unanswerable questions like, "Don't you know you're not supposed to walk in a crime scene?" Finally I found a more sympathetic policeman who led me out, where a pair of reporters who wanted to interview me were waiting.
They were the ones who told me about the boy's body. They immediately asked me for a reaction, and when I sputtered unsatisfying things about how awful it was, they dug what they probably thought was deeper by asking me, "How do you feel knowing that someone you care about lives next door to a crime scene?" I was still pretty dazed, so I just told them I felt bad for the boy and his family and they let me go about my business. I felt bad for the reporters too — it's hard to get anyone who actually knows anything to talk to you about a crime, and it's frustrating to have to rely on quotes from bleary-eyed and poorly informed passersby like me.
It wasn't until I got home and looked at the news that I realized I might actually have been sleeping at my friend's apartment when the murderer of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky was actually disposing of the boy's remains in the dumpster next door. This is disturbing, certainly, but I'm a lot more upset about the fact that the crime occurred at all than about the revelation that part of it may have taken place near me.
It's true that I'll probably remember this murder more clearly than I otherwise would due to my proximity to it, but in a way it's a false proximity. Kletzky wasn't my child; his family is not my family. As much as I was sickened by his murder and saddened by the posters of his face still lingering in subway stations after his body had been found, I don't know what it's like to lose a son in such a terrible way, and I can't possibly imagine what his parents are going through. My friend recently sent me this update: "the neighborhood is sad, though things looked strikingly back to normal by about 9:30."
The close quarters we inhabit in cities breed a certain amount of empathy, and for a little while yesterday it felt like all of Brooklyn was mourning Kletzky's death. But this empathy has its limits — eventually, we all had to crawl under the yellow tape and get back to work. It's a little sad that we can recover at all from the brutal murder of a child, let alone that we can do so by midmorning. But given the magnitude of suffering and horror that descends on any major city on any given day, this rebound is probably lucky — otherwise we'd all go insane.
Missing Boy's Dismembered Body Found; Suspect Says He Panicked [NYT City Room]