Police: MS-13 gang responsible for killing of 4 teens in CI park
BY TARA SMITH AND NICOLE ALLEGREZZA
Bellport High School students returned to classes Monday, their first day back after learning about the death of two of their classmates, Jorge Tigre, 18, and Justin Llivicura, 16. On Monday evening, over 100 students, parents, teachers and local government officials joined the victims’ friends and family at the high school for a glow-stick vigil remembering their lives.
Tigre and Llivicura were among the four victims found near a soccer field at the Central Islip Recreation Park last Wednesday, along with 18-year-old cousins Michael Banegas of Brentwood and Jefferson Villalobos of Pompano, Fla. Sources say Villalobos was visiting Banegas for spring break.
According to Suffolk County police commissioner Timothy Sini, the bodies were discovered late Wednesday night. “The manner in which they were killed is consistent with the modus operandi of MS-13,” Sini said in a news conference Thursday.
Sources say the grisly scene showed the bodies to be brutally mutilated, presumably with bats or machetes. Unconfirmed reports also claim there may have been a fifth victim who was able to run away. Sini declined to comment on that possibility at a follow-up news conference on Friday, as crosses and flowers quickly lined the site.
In response, Bellport High School principal Timothy Hogan told the Long Island Advance that extra school security was added inside and outside the building on Monday and throughout the week. A school resource officer issued by SCPD, a crisis intervention team for both faculty and students, bilingual social workers, a psychologist and members from the Family Service League were all on hand throughout the week.
“I am very proud of our faculty, staff and students for the support and compassion they have shown already and I am confident that will continue to show in the days, months and weeks ahead,” he said.
According to Hogan, Llivicura came to the district as an elementary school student in 2005 from Ecuador and entered the high school in 2015. Tigre entered the district in 2015 from El Salvador in his senior year.
“We have been monitoring for gang violence behavior since the beginning of this school year as a direct result of the attack in August,” he said.
The incident he referenced was the Aug. 19, 2016 slashing, where two boys were found wounded in the woods. Sources say machetes may have been used, a characteristic M.O. of MS-13. According to police, two males, aged 16 and 19, were in the woods off Agamemnon Avenue in North Bellport when an unknown suspect or suspects slashed them at 11:50 p.m. The males were taken to area hospitals for serious injuries. No further information was given and it is unknown whether or not the incident was gang related.
Last week, Sini reaffirmed the department’s dedication to crack down on gang violence. “We are in the midst of a war and we’re going to continue that war,” he said, announcing a $25,000 fast-cash reward for any information that leads to the arrest of perpetrator or perpetrators.
Last month, a half-dozen members of the Salvadoran gang MS-13 were indicted in connection with at least seven recent Suffolk County murders, including the slayings of Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, in Brentwood last year. Sini added that part of MS-13’s “trademark” around the country is to prey on recent immigrants, partly because of their vulnerability.
Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning, herself an immigrant, reached out to the community. “I left a war zone for a better life and I know these immigrant families came here for a better life,” she said at Monday night’s vigil. “This is not what they asked for. I pray for them and an end to this violence. It has to stop.”
Gang violence has been a problem for more than a decade in parts of Central Islip and Brentwood, but the news still comes as a surprise to those in the Bellport community.
Bellport resident and founder of Angels of Long Island Debbie Loesch said this didn’t just happen to North Bellport but to the entire South Country district.
“I feel there will be a lot of anger, which is the secondary emotion to fear. This is a time where as a community we need to bring back some old-school values and go back to when neighbors helped neighbors. We need a sense of community like never before,” she said. “This is here now and we all need to band together. As parents, we need to make sure our children are safe and pay attention to who they hang out with.”
“There are underlying issues at play that this community has been struggling to find solutions to. This is a new one that’s come to light, and somehow we missed it,” said Suffolk County Legis. Rob Calarco, adding that he wants the community to know that he’s standing with them.
Sini also attended the vigil to offer his condolences to the family and reiterate their commitment. “It’s all hands on deck until we solve these murders,” he said. “And we’ll be here for the long hall,” offering support to a grieving community.
At the vigil, one group of Bellport High School students stood arm in arm, still trying to make sense of the tragedy. The first day back at school was rough, they said. Students and teachers who had Tigre and Llivicura in class were shaken up, said one senior, who asked to remain anonymous.
He had a class with Tigre, and couldn’t focus during that period. Instead, he stared at his empty seat. “It’s a weird feeling going to class and knowing that empty seat is supposed to be filled,” he said. “He was a good kid, smart. He was supposed to graduate in two months and now he’ll never get to do that.”
What’s next for Bellport?
Sini was not available for comment as of press time, however, Browning said he has plans to speak about gang violence prior to the Suffolk County Public Safety Committee meeting on Friday, April 21.
“The incident happened in the Central Islip-Brentwood area, however, how these two children got caught up in this is a concern,” Browning said. “At this point, the police have no definitive answer. Was this an attempt on MS-13 to recruit, a retaliation because of their refusal to belong or were they just victims in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
The connection of the victims to the gang, she said, is still to be determined.
“I know that there is a spatter of them in North Bellport, just not to the extent as in Brentwood and Central Islip,” she added. “We need continue to pay attention to keep it from escalating from what it already is.”
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