Pastor: Wife of suspect in Etan Patz case 'absolutely shell-shocked'

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Story highlights

  • Rosemary Hernandez visited her pastor after her husband's arrest, the pastor says
  • She was weeping and confused that Pedro Hernandez was accused of murder
  • Police say her husband confessed to killing Etan Patz, 6, in 1979
  • The pastor asks church members to pray for the Patz and Hernandez families

Rosemary Hernandez was going through hard times, coping with financial woes after recently losing her job at an insurance company, all that coming years after an accident left her husband unable to work.

Yet it was something else entirely on her mind when she and her daughter came weeping into their Moorestown, New Jersey, church Thursday, according to their pastor.

"I knew it was something bad," Marantha Christian Fellowship church Senior Pastor George Bowen told CNN on Sunday.

Hernandez told Bowen that police came to her door the previous day, saying their visit had "something to do with the Etan Patz case."

Relative: Man now suspected in Etan Patz death was reported to police decades ago

The 6-year-old boy's sudden disappearance a block from his Manhattan home on May 25, 1979, spawned a national movement to raise awareness of missing children, including the then-novel approach of putting an image of the child's face on milk cartons.

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Her husband, Pedro Hernandez, ended up leaving the family home with police -- and, with his subsequent arrest, he hasn't returned.

"She seemed absolutely shell-shocked," Bowen recalled Sunday of his conversation three days earlier with Rosemary Hernandez. "She was crying. She had an expression on her face like, 'How could this ever happen?'"

That same day, police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters that Pedro Hernandez had admitted -- as a then-19-year-old clerk in a Manhattan bodega -- to luring Etan to the store with the promise of a soda, choking him and placing his body in the trash about a block and a half away.

The Manhattan district attorney's office charged Pedro Hernandez with second-degree murder, finding his confession credible even given that authorities concede there is no physical evidence linking him and that Patz's body has never been found.

Defense lawyer Harvey Fishbein claims his client -- who is on suicide watch at New York's Bellevue Hospital, according to a law enforcement source -- has a "long psychiatric history" including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and hallucinations.

Hernandez has not entered a plea due to a pending psychiatric evaluation.

Rosemary Hernandez is Pedro Hernandez's second wife.

Bowen, the New Jersey pastor, said he got the impression Pedro Hernandez never mentioned anything about the Patz case or about killing anyone to his wife, while ceding he never posed the question directly to Rosemary Hernandez.

What he did know for certain was that the Hernandez family attended the church regularly.

Neighbors say suspect in Patz killing lived a quiet life with his family

The couple faithfully sat in the second row during services, the pastor said.

Rosemary Hernandez and her daughter were active in church ministries. But Pedro Hernandez, who Kelly has said had been collecting disability payments since a 1993 accident prevented him from working, was more in the background.

"He's very quiet, very shy," Bowen said, describing him as "socially awkward."

The pastor said that his interactions with the husband typically consisted of brief greetings and little else. Once, the couple came to him for counseling -- for an issue he say was not related to their marriage or a crime -- and Rosemary Hernandez "did all the talking," Bowen said.

For this Sunday's services, Rosemary Hernandez and her daughter were not in their regular spot in the second row.

But they were on Bowen's mind, as was Pedro Hernandez's alleged victim and the boy's family.

"Please pray for the Patz family, pray for Rosemary and (her daughter)," the pastor told his congregation. "Please pray for Pedro."