New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said Thursday night that Pedro Hernandez, a former Manhattan store clerk who once lived near Etan Patz, has been arrested for the boy's death.
Kelly said Hernandez allegedly lured Patz to the store with the promise of a soda, choked him in the basement and then disposed of the body using a plastic bag.
Hernandez was picked up by authorities Wednesday in New Jersey. Although his claims were being regarded with what authorities call "a healthy dose of skepticism," this latest development -- given to police from a confidant of Hernandez, the source said -- sheds new light on a case that has stumped investigators for more than a quarter century.
Police described the new information as "a good lead," due in part to the boy's stated intentions just prior to his disappearance: He told his parents that he was going to stop at the store to buy a soda.
Thursday's disclosure by New York police marks a new turn in the saga of a missing child case that drew national attention 33 years ago. Earlier, Kelly said that a man in custody "has made statements to NYPD detectives" about Etan's disappearance in 1979 that led them to believe he may have had a role in the boy's death.
Etan was officially declared dead in 2001 as part of a lawsuit filed by his family against a convicted child molester, Jose Antonio Ramos, who has long been considered a prime suspect.
Read more: Search underway for Etan Patz's remains
Last month, authorities combed the basement in a Manhattan neighborhood where Etan disappeared looking for "human remains, clothing or other personal effects." The basement belonged to carpenter Othniel Miller, 75, who has not been charged with a crime.
Miller's lawyer told CNN Thursday that Hernandez and his client are not familiar with each other.
"Mr. Miller is relieved by these developments, as he was not involved in any way with Etan Patz's disappearance," said attorney Michael C. Farkas. "At the same time, Mr. Miller is very pleased that those responsible for this heinous crime may be brought to justice, and the Patz family may finally have the closure they deserve."
On May 25, 1979 -- a day which would later be named National Missing Children's Day by President Ronald Reagan -- little Etan left home to walk by himself for the first time to his school bus stop a block away. He was never seen again.
Etan’s case, along with the Atlanta child murders later that summer, helped propel the plight of missing children into the national consciousness.