By most accounts, Levi Aron was a quiet, reserved man, described by his ex-wife as great with kids and by colleagues and neighbors as a harmless, if odd loner. But no one imagined the 35-year-old Orthodox Jew might be capable of strangling and mutilating an 8-year-old boy he had just met on the street.
"We still don't believe it, we're sick to our stomachs," said a female employee at Empire State Building Supply on McDonald Avenue, where Aron worked off and on for more than a decade.
Aron lived in the attic apartment of a home he shared with relatives on East Second Street in Kensington, Brooklyn, about a mile from where he allegedly picked up Leiby Kletzky. It's his seemingly tranquil personality that made the nature of his accused crime all the more incomprehensible.
"He was quiet, but he was nice. He just kind of kept to himself, he came in, did his job and went home. We're dumbfounded," his co-worker said.
Taking a break from Brooklyn, where he grew up and was described as a quiet and devout child, Aron moved to Memphis, Tenn. in early 2006. There, he met his now-ex-wife, Deborah Kivel, on a Jewish dating site, and the couple quickly married that March. They divorced about a year later, citing "irreconcilable differences."
Kivel, 34, told amNewYork that during their marriage, Aron never did anything to suggest he had such brutality in him. Further, he got along very well with her two kids, now ages 13 and 10, Kivel said.
"I'm shocked. Devastated. Hurt. I mean, it was out of his character. It's just shock and utter disbelief," she said. "He was very good with my daughter and son."
She added: "Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined anything like this."
Police said Aron had no record of violence against children. He had one summons in New York for public urination, and reportedly had a drunken driving arrest dropped while in Tennessee.
Miriam Nockenofsky, 42 and a mother of four, knew Aron and lives two blocks away from him in Brooklyn. She described him as "weird," but didn't think he would ever do something like this.
"He's a strange guy, [but] he didn't do anything crazy," Nockenofsky said. "I still cannot wrap my brain around it. It is a sick thing. This guy is a monster."
(with Marc Beja and Christine DiStasio)