The NYPD lieutenant who informed Etan Patz's family that an arrest was made in the 33-year unsolved case of their missing son said the boy's father was surprised and overwhelmed, but handled the information "very well."
"I don't know if you would call this good news, I think it would just be considered another piece of the puzzle," Lt. Chris Zimmerman said at the Thursday press conference where the NYPD announced the arrest of Pedro Hernandez, 51, of Maple Shade, N.J., in the case that had gone unsolved since 1979.
Police say Hernandez confessed to luring 6-year-old Patz from the bus stop into a bodega where he worked with the promise of a soda before choking him to death in the basement. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly did not say whether Hernandez had a lawyer.
Kelly said Hernandez told the NYPD that he put Patz's body in a plastic bag and disposed of it in the trash.
Hernandez was questioned after the Missing Persons Squad received a tip from someone who remembered Hernandez speaking of having "done a bad thing" and said he killed a child in New York.
The exhaustive search for Patz was renewed several weeks ago when police dug up the basement of a handyman's workshop near where Patz disappeared. A new layer of concrete had been laid over the foundation of the basement shortly after the boy vanished.
That search yielded no new evidence, but coverage of the investigation reminded the tipster of Hernandez's conversation, Kelly said.
Kelly said the Patz family was kept informed as the most recent case developed. Zimmerman said he was concerned for Stan Patz's feelings and was glad to tell him the news of an arrest.
"I didn't want to upset him any more than he may have been," Zimmerman said.
The Patz family never left their SoHo home or changed their phone number after their boy disappeared.
They have endured decades of false leads, and a lack of hard evidence.
Stan Patz had his son declared legally dead in 2001 so he could sue Jose Ramos, a drifter and onetime boyfriend of Patz's baby sitter who remained a longtime possible suspect. He has never been criminally charged with the boy's death and denies harming the boy. A civil judge in 2004 found Ramos to be responsible for the child's death.
He is in prison in Pennsylvania on a separate case.
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