The sister of Pedro Hernandez, the New Jersey man arrested on suspicion of killing 6-year-old Etan Patz 33 years ago, has reportedly said that she alerted police in the early 1980s that her brother had confessed to the crime to a church group.
Norma Hernandez, 53, said that she was informed by family members that her brother had confessed to abducting and killing Etan to a prayer group at St. Anthony of Padua, a Roman Catholic Church in Camden, N.J., according to The Wall Street Journal. The suspect's sister said that other family members were present at the time of his alleged confession and that she informed Camden police after they told her about it.
It is still unclear what the Camden police did with the information that she said she gave them. The Camden County Prosecutor's Office told the Wall Street Journal Monday that the office wouldn't discuss the case.
"I just feel angry that people who heard the confession didn't do anything," Norma Hernandez told the newspaper.
She added that her brother had returned from New York City after the killing, and would frequently look out the window. "He was afraid or something," she said.
Hernandez was arrested Thursday after telling authorities that he'd lured the child to his death with the promise of soda in lower Manhattan May 25, 1979. He reportedly said that he'd strangled Etan and then stuffed the boy's body into a plastic garbage bag, carried it to another location and then dumped it in the trash.
The New York Times reported this weekend that Pedro Hernandez had confessed during a prayer meeting in the early 1980s to killing the boy, whom he allegedly abducted on the first day he was allowed to walk to the school bus stop alone.
The former leader of the prayer group, which was held in a Roman Catholic Church in Camden, told the Times that Hernandez said in front of the meeting's attendees that he had strangled a boy, the paper reported Sunday.
"He confessed to the group," said Tomas Rivera, who often led the meetings at St. Anthony of Padua and was present during the admission. Rivera told the Times he did not tell the police at the time "because he did not confess to me."
Rivera, who said he'd been questioned by New York police last week, said Hernandez had also said he left the body in a trash bin.
Hernandez was a clerk at a corner store in the New York City neighborhood where Etan disappeared 33 years ago. He had worked at the store for nearly a month. He left the job after Etan's disappearance, according to officials. Etan's body has not been found.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Hernandez had told relatives and friends as early as 1981 that he'd "done a bad thing and killed a child in New York."
Hernandez was formally charged with second-degree murder. He remains at a New York City hospital because authorities fear he might attempt kill himself. His lawyer said no plea had been entered pending a psychiatric evaluation.
The search for Etan has been one of the largest, longest-lasting and most heart-wrenching hunts for a missing child in the country's recent history. His photo was among the first of a missing child to appear on a milk carton.
Stan Patz, Etan's father, reportedly spent Memorial Day on a bike ride through lower Manhattan, where he silently rode past 448 West Broadway, the address where Pedro Hernandez allegedly killed his son.