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"The gangs of today will be the terrorists of tomorrow"

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  • Thu, April 20, 2017 7:32 AM | NYGIA (Administrator)

    CENTRAL ISLIP, Long Island (WABC) --

    A community in Central Islip sieged by gang violence is looking for real answers from police.

    They're tired of feeling scared.

    They're tired of the drugs and violence destroying their neighborhood and are desperate for help.

    Tuesday night the Suffolk County Police told them that they have a plan.

    Families arrived at the Knights of Columbus Hall Tuesday night hoping to get some answers about the murders of four teenagers last week allegedly by gang members, and to learn if any arrests were imminent.

    Vanessa lives a block from the park where the bodies were found.

    "It's a little scary because my children, we went there the day before to play, so now my children can't play, they're small children," Vanessa said.

    "We understand that these murders were tragic, we understand that the community is hurting and we stand with them, we hurt as well, and we'll stop at nothing to solve these murders," said Commissioner Timothy Sini, Suffolk County Police Department.

    Police Commissioner Sini laid out a strategy that involved first just identifying gang members, using the FBI and federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) laws to put them in jail, and for the longer term, providing alternatives for young people.

    "Summertime is coming, kids don't have to be idle, we're going to have to find something for them to do instead of being idle on the streets and being influenced by gang members who want to pull them in and increase their numbers," said Donald McCarthy, a resident.

    So far, the murders of four young men remain unsolved and some are not confident the police can prevent it from happening again.

    "I think they're all honest and earnest but, you know I'm kind of a law and order guy and. (at some point they have to do something?) Yes." Said David Miller, a resident. 

  • Wed, March 22, 2017 10:22 AM | NYGIA (Administrator)

    The Hispanic United Association of Westbury held an educational forum last week to inform community members on how they could help keep their kids from getting involved with gangs and violence.

    The crowd of about 150 mostly Hispanic parents and community members filled into the Westbury Middle School auditorium to hear from keynote speakers Sergio Argueta, founder of S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, a Long Island organization that specializes in youth, gang and gun violence prevention and intervention, as well as Detective Luis Salazar from the Nassau County Police Department.

    Luis Romero, an outreach worker with the Roosevelt/Freeport Economic Opportunity Commission (EOC) of Nassau County, brought his son to the program, saying that in his line of work he often sees parents who don’t know how to deal with issues such as gang violence, suicide or depression.

    “Sometimes it’s best for [teens] to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, as opposed from parents,” Romero said, noting that ages 10-14 is when the issues of gang-related violence and depression begin to spring up. Children of undocumented parents who come to the states before their family are also more susceptible to joining a gang, as the gang offers a family environment. “Dialogue and communication is important. If there’s been a gap of years, you need to reconnect with your children. Sometimes there’s a lot of resentment and that’s why a lot of kids join gangs. We’ve been seeing that a lot.”

    Superintendent Dr. Mary Lagnado noted that preventing gangs and violence was essential in making sure students received a proper education.

    “It is something that is now at the top of our list as one of the topics we have to tell our parents on how it can be prevented,” Lagnado said in opening remarks to the crowd. “We have to make sure our students are safe and secure so they are ready to learn. Without that, there will be no learning.”

    Social worker Lewis White helps lead a club at the middle school called Council for Unity, which gives students a safe environment where they can voice their feelings and be informed about the dangers of gangs. About 15 teens attend the voluntary meetings, which are held three times a week. He said the educational forum was a good resource for parents looking to know how to help their kids avoid gangs.

    “It makes the community more aware of the potential problem of gangs in the community and the resources and alternatives of their kids getting involved in gang activity,” White said. “It helps them know how to keep their kids from getting involved with things like that.”

  • Sat, March 04, 2017 9:42 AM | NYGIA (Administrator)

    BUFFALO - With law enforcement in Buffalo struggling to solve gang-related homicides, we are now learning that the city's gang population is higher than previously disclosed.

    The local FBI office runs the Safe Street Task Force. It works cooperatively with local agencies include the Buffalo Police Department. 2 On-Your-Side has learned that as of December, the task force has identified some 55 street gang in Buffalo with total gang members around 700.

    These are starkly larger numbers than ones reported two years ago when the agency released figures of 30 gang and 300 members. An FBI spokeswoman attributes the increased numbers to better intelligence and identifications methods, not due to actual growth of gang ranks.

    "You want to get somebody out of a gang? You want to take a gun out of someone’s hand? We need to get them a job that pays well,” says activist Duncan Kirkwood.

    Kirkwood grew up in the Central Park section of the city. After getting a college degree, he has returned to Buffalo to help re-build the East Side of the city where he grew up. He says young people turn to gangs because they feel there are few other options to get ahead.

    Kirkwood says "(Gang members are) putting money in your hand immediately. They’re giving you ways you can all of a sudden get the nice clothes and feel normal, feel like a regular person.”

    Kirkwood believes the FBI gang figures for Buffalo may be over-stated. But a law enforcement source says Buffalo's gang population may be larger than the newly released number.

    The source points out teens are a "tremendous source of violence" in the region. And the FBI does not include minors when counting city gang members.

  • Sat, March 04, 2017 9:41 AM | NYGIA (Administrator)

    BUFFALO - The Buffalo Police Department (BPD) still struggles to solve its gang related killings.

    A joint-investigation by 2 On-Your-Side and Investigative Post revisited the ability of the city force to solve murders. Two-years ago, a similar probe found that the solve rate for BPD was far below the national average.

    That remains true today. Looking at killings in Buffalo from 2014 through 2016, the percentage of solved, or as police say "cleared", murder cases was 34%. 

    In 2014, the solve rate stands at 42%. For 2015, it's 37%. Last year, just 25% of homicides committed in Buffalo have been solved.

    According to the FBI, the national average is roughly 60%.

    In many murder categories such as those involving robberies, domestic disputes and child abuse, the city force was very successful, solving nearly three-quarters of those killings.

    The biggest challenge is gang and drug-related homicides.

    In the three-year period we reviewed, there are 77 murders attributed to street gangs. Police have cleared just 7 of these cases.

    Why are these crimes so difficult to solve?

    "Our number one impediment is witness cooperation and that had been a challenge for the last ten, fifteen years,” says former Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty.

    Before holding down the top job at the county prosecutor's office, Flaherty was a long-time assistant district attorney. During his one-year tenure running the office, the number of successfully prosecuted murder cases jumped from 17 in 2015 to more than double that, 36 in 2016.

    Flaherty says often the most difficult part of closing homicide cases is getting witnesses to come forward and testify.

    “It’s a multi-faceted problem. And it involves fractured relationships between police and members of community…especially the inner city and that’s on us,” says Flaherty.

    Flaherty believes, for years, area law enforcement often did not visit crime-prone neighborhoods unless there was a call for help. Much of today's unsolved murders in Buffalo occurred on the east and west sides, areas that have large concentrations of people of color.

    “I don’t know any officer who knows the names of the good kids from the community. There may be some and I just may not know them but it doesn’t feel that way," says Jamielah Huggins.

    Huggins is African-American, lives in Buffalo and worries about her 15-year-old son. She describes the relationship between city police and violence-prone neighborhoods as broken.

    “They can build those relationships. The officers who police those communities have to,” says Huggins.

    For a cop, learning a neighborhood and the people who live there can take time, and the head of the police union says too often officers are moving from call to call without time to stop and talk with citizens.

    "they’re coming into work. They’re getting their orders from their lieutenant and there’s calls waiting for them to be answered. There’s not a lot of time,” says Kevin Kennedy, president of Buffalo Police Benevolent Association.

    Despite multiple requests for interview, the BPD did not offer anyone from the force to talk about the unsolved murders and the challenges of clearing gang-related killings.

    And the challenge may be larger than previously known. The local FBI office's Safe Street Task force gathering information on street gangs and shares that with local law enforcement including the BPD.

    FBI spokesperson Maureen Dempsey tells 2 On-Your-Side that as of December 2016, the task force had identified 55 separate street gangs in Buffalo and some 700 gang members. Membership number could be larger than that. The FBI does not count anyone under the age of 18.

  • Sat, March 04, 2017 9:38 AM | NYGIA (Administrator)

    More than a dozen members of the MS-13 gang were indicted Thursday on seven killings on Long Island spanning three years, including the deaths of several high school students last year.

    The US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York said the 13 members of La Mara Salvatrucha, known as MS-13, face offenses including seven murder charges, racketeering, attempted murder, assault, obstruction of justice and arson in the 41-count indictment unsealed Thursday in federal court in Central Islip, New York.

    "Law enforcement was determined that these brutal murders wouldn't turn into cold cases," US Attorney Robert L. Capers told reporters.

    Two of the students -- Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16 -- were beaten with baseball bats and a machete, Capers said. The girls attended Brentwood High School in Brentwood, a working-class community in Suffolk County, about 45 miles east of New York City.

    At the time, police said there appeared to be gang involvement in the girls' deaths and the deaths of two others, whose skeletal remains were found after they had been missing for months. Police have not announced arrests in the latter two deaths.

    "The Brentwood family has spent the last six months in mourning, but today marks the beginning of the healing process for this beautiful and resilient community," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said.

    Kayla was involved in a "series of disputes" with MS-13 gang members and associates months earlier, authorities said. She and friends then became involved in an altercation at Brentwood High a week before the girls' deaths, authorities said. MS-13 members vowed to seek revenge.

    On September 13, gang members went looking for rival gang members to kill in Brentwood, authorities said. Prosecutors said gang members, including one man who was indicted, saw the two best friends. The girls had gone for a walk that night, News 12 Long island reported.

    They recognized Kayla, and got permission to kill the girls from two gang leaders, who were also indicted, authorities said.

    A passerby found Nisa's body on a Brentwood street on September 13, the eve of her 16th birthday, Sini said. The next day, Kayla's body was discovered in the backyard of a nearby home.

    "My message to the people of Brentwood and all of Suffolk County is that although we are keenly aware that nothing will ever undue the heartbreaking loss of Nisa and Kayla, we can take solace in the fact that their savage murderers will be held accountable," Sini said.

    Authorities said a third Brentwood High School student, Jose Pena, 18, was killed on June 3, 2016. His skeletal remains were discovered on October 17, 2016, in a wooded area that served as a burial ground for MS-13 victims, Capers said.

    Pena was killed because he was suspected violating gang rules, federal authorities said.

    "His bones bore marks of repeated stab wounds and beatings with a bat, a blunt force instrument," Capers said.

    Sini said Suffolk police have cracked down on gangs. Police have collected intelligence on MS-13 members and created a list of gang members to put under surveillance. Officers have arrested members for various crimes, he said.

    Since September 2016, Sini said, 125 MS-13 members have been arrested.

    "We are going to eradicate MS-13 from these communities," Sini said.

    MS-13 is one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States, according to federal authorities. An international criminal organization, it has more than 6,000 members in the United States, including a presence in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia, officials said.

    More than 30,000 members operate mostly in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, federal authorities said.

    MS-13 is the largest and most violent street gang on Long Island, the US Attorney's Office said.

    Capers said two of the suspects are US citizens. A third suspect is a legal permanent resident and the rest are undocumented immigrants, Capers said.

    If convicted, the defendants could face up to life in prison or the death penalty.

    CNN's Darran Simon contributed to this report.

  • Tue, February 28, 2017 1:11 PM | NYGIA (Administrator)


    SUFFOLK COUNTY - Suffolk County has increased its anti-gang personnel to help combat what the sheriff's department calls an "overwhelming" problem.

    Authorities say gang membership is growing. Suffolk police say they've arrested 125 suspected MS-13 gang members since September 2016. Many of them end up in the county’s jails, where authorities say they can sometimes get information about what’s going on in the streets.

    So the sheriff's department has increased its own numbers. The gang unit has more than doubled in size, from four investigators to nine -- overseeing an estimated 274 gang members incarcerated in Yaphank and Riverhead.

    The El Salvadoran street gang is believed to be responsible for six murders from last year. Five of the victims were teenagers.


  • Thu, January 12, 2017 7:53 AM | NYGIA (Administrator)

    INWOOD, NY — Neighborhood elected officials held a press conference Monday on the corner of Vermilyea Avenue and West 204th Street to thank police for taking down a 32-member street gang accused of turning the area into an open-air drug market.

    Newly sworn-in Congressman Adriano Espaillat was joined by City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, State Senator Marisol Alcantara and State Assembly Member Carmen De La Rosa and law enforcement representatives. The politicians said that the area had been

    "This block has been the source of many complaints for years and years by local residents that often complain about drug sales happening in their lobby, in their corner, right across from IS 152 — an intermediate school a block from here." Espaillat said Monday.

    "We want to thank Commissioner O'Neill for his efforts in making sure that some peace and tranquility is brought to this neighborhood."

    On Wednesday 32 alleged members of a street gang which sold crack cocaine on Vermilyea Avenue between West 204th and West 207th streets were indicted for various crimes including conspiracy and criminal sale of a controlled substance. Of the 32 people indicted, 21 were arrested and have pleaded not guilty, according to court records.

    Two brothers — Jose and Omar Luperon — were charged with "operating as a major trafficker" — also known as the "drug kingpin" statute, according to an indictment from the Manhattan District Attorney's office (DA).

    The gang sold crack cocaine in building lobbies and gated entrances of residential buildings, according to the DA.

    "I applaud law enforcement officials for their diligent work in helping to rid our community of individuals who were adding to a rampant drug culture. This latest bust signifies our commitment to maintain public safety and quality of life for the hard working men and women of this district," De La Rosa said in a statement.

    Wednesday's indictment came after a longterm investigation into Inwood's alleged trafficking ring. Police wiretapped suspects' phones and bought drugs from them while posing as customers, according to the DA.

    The trafficking ring is believed to have operated from Aug. 29, 2015 to Dec. 26, 2016. Its alleged members are worked in shifts to sell drugs 24 hours per day on Vermilyea Avenue, the DA said — during which time they made more than 100 crack cocaine sales, including more than two dozen sales to undercover NYPD detectives.

    NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said 29 search warrants were issued early Wednesday morning, and 21 arrests made in total. Boyce said the stretch of Vermilyea Avenue controlled by the gang looked like "something out of the 1980s."

    Nine of the accused gang members appeared in court on Jan. 9 for bail hearings, according to the Manhattan DA's office. On Jan. 13 another group of accused gang members — including the Luperon brothers — are set to appear in court for bail hearings, court records show.

  • Tue, December 27, 2016 12:22 PM | NYGIA (Administrator)

    BUFFALO, N.Y. -- He was one of two people shot June 29 on Humason Avenue, and now Detavion Magee is facing a first degree assault charge relating to the incident.

    "He's accused of being a willing participant in a gunfight which led to the serious physical injury of the 11-year-old boy, Juan," said Michael Flaherty, D-Acting Erie County District Attorney.

    Juan Rodriguez, who is now 12, was hit in the head by a bullet as he was helping his siblings get inside their home during the shooting.

    "Miraculously, he is now in a rehab situation. He's out of the hospital but for rehab, he has to wear a helmet at all times to protect his brain because they've had to leave part of his skull open, and he has to re-learn some very basic tasks, but he's a true survivor," said Christopher Belling, an Assistant Erie County District Attorney.

    Belling says the DA's Office believes Magee, 21, is a member of a gang, and a rival gang was shooting at him.

    Brian Parker, Magee's attorney, says his client isn't in a gang, and was just walking down the street when the incident started.

    "There were two cars that he noticed following and passing him in the time proceeding up to the shooting. He was fired at, he was actually hit, he was hiding behind another vehicle that was parked at one point, and the DA's proof is going to show that my client was not the person that shot the 11-year-old," said Parker.

    Flaherty says it doesn't matter who fired the shot, referring to a legal theory called "transferred intent."

    "If a person intends to harm somebody with a gun by shooting at him, misses and hits somebody else, he is just as liable as if he hit his intended target," said Flaherty. "In addition to that, if we can prove you acted in concert with somebody else to accomplish an aim, in this case, hurt somebody, you are just as liable as the other person."

    Parker stresses Magee was also a victim, and feared for his life after the shooting.

    "This was not the first time he was shot by these same individuals. There was another incident between them the Christmas of 2014 as well."

    However, Parker says this was Magee's first arrest. He pleaded not guilty to the assault charge Thursday. In November, he pleaded not guilty to his initial charge, criminal possession of a weapon.

    Magee has been remanded and is due back in court January 12.

    As for the other individuals involved in the shooting, Flaherty says the investigation remains open.

  • Tue, October 25, 2016 1:49 PM | NYGIA (Administrator)

    Suffolk County police plans to introduce a controversial new tool as part of its latest crackdown on violent gangs: automatic license plate readers.

    The integration of the new surveillance technology in Brentwood, Central Islip and Bay Shore comes amid a spate of murders—six in total—since September. The half-dozen slayings are believed to be gang-related, authorities have said.

    The department plans to roll out at least 50 license plate readers across the three communities, paid for with a $1 million state grant secured by State Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood).

    The short-term goal is to use the devices to solve open cases, officials said. But ultimately, authorities hope to “decimate the gangs that have committed these crimes,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said outside the department’s third precinct in Bay Shore Monday morning.

    The police department has only recently begun discussions of selecting a vendor, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said, adding that the department additionally has the ability to collaborate with municipalities that have also expressed interest in the technology.

    “This is a gigantic shot in the arm,” Sini told reporters. Speaking directly to gang members, he warned: “Do not commit crime in this area. We will catch you.”

    Since the high-profile slayings, beginning in September, the department has aggressively targeted known gang members and boosted patrols in and around Brentwood.

    Crackdown on Gangs

    The latest anti-gang initiative began after the brutally beaten bodies of two best friends—15-year-old Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas—were discovered in Brentwood just one day apart. Their murders are believed to be gang-related, police said. Authorities have since discovered skeletal remains of three missing teens on the grounds of Pilgrim Psychiatric Center on Crooked Hill Road, including that of 18-year-old Jose Pena-Hernandez, an alleged MS-13 gang member.

    In the wake of Mickens’ and Cuevas’ murders, police have flooded the Brentwood area, increased patrols, and developed a list of known gang members that gang officers have used to target specific individuals, Sini said.

    “This pressure is allowing us to gather unbelievable amount of information,” Sini said. “That’s why we have discovered certain crimes that have occurred in the Brentwood area.”

    To date, 30 purported gang members have been arrested for various crimes, ranging from weapons possession to trespassing, Sini said. Additionally, five gang members have been taken into federal custody on racketeering charges. Sini reiterated Monday that the department will not release the names of those in federal custody until authorities believe doing so wouldn’t jeopardize investigations.

    When gang violence in Suffolk ratcheted up nearly a decade ago, the crackdown then included rudimentary police work, such as traffic stops. But technology has progressed so much that police believe license plate readers can be used as a “virtual net” encircling the perimeter of targeted neighborhoods to make it difficult for known gang members to pass through unnoticed.

    Ramos said the community has grown “weary” of the hastily arranged community meetings and ubiquitous task forces spawned from past slayings, characterizing such efforts as “lip service.”

    “We need to get real about this problem and realize that we have to do more than talk about it,” Ramos told reporters.

    Privacy Concerns

    Civil liberties groups have expressed concern about the integration of plate readers because of the technology’s ability to suck up the plate numbers of every vehicle that passes through a virtual checkpoint. How the information is stored, and for how long, has also raised serious privacy questions. Anyone in possession of such data can access a specific vehicle’s travel history, and, for example, use it to ascertain the driver’s religious and political affiliation, thereby creating a profile of that person.

    Ramos said it’s not Suffolk police’s goal to use the technology, which can be outfitted on patrol vehicles and on roadside poles, to monitor the community.

    “We must respect the civil rights of our community,” he said. “Anybody that’s concerned with these cameras spying on them—they will absolutely not be used for anything other than solving a crime.”

    In order to access the database, an officer would require very specific information, including a case number, officials said. Sini noted that the department would periodically run audits to analyze which officers accessed the database to ensure its proper use.

    The three Suffolk communities won’t be the first on Long Island to use these devices.

    The Village of Freeport installed more than two-dozen license plate readers around the perimeter of the community late last year, and within 90 days scanned an astounding 15 million license plates. The village lauded how it was able to issue more than 2,000 summonses over that time period and impound hundreds of cars as well as make several arrests related to stolen vehicles. In one instance, the readers helped catch a man wanted for murder in Virgina, village officials said.

    But the department of less than 100 officers has reportedly been flooded with thousands of hits through its system, which can cross-reference up to 20,000 plate numbers per minute from federal and state motor vehicle records. The deluge has raised concerns about overburdening the village’s small police force.

    In Suffolk, the plan is not to track every single hit, but to input case numbers in order to find specific individuals wanted for serious crimes.

    “The residents of Brentwood, Bay Shore and Central Islip need not be concerned about these cameras unless one is committing a crime,” Ramos stressed.

    “We need to get buy-in…this is an asset for the residents of Brentwood,” Sini added.

    Officials will hold community meetings as the technology is rolled out to address concerns and obtain input.

    In the meantime, police are continuing to put pressure on gangs, Sini said.

    In the last month, violent crime is down 75-percent in Brentwood, he claimed, adding that the department is continuing to collect intelligence.

    “You don’t stumble upon skeletal remains in a densely wooded area by accident,” he said.

  • Mon, October 03, 2016 12:22 PM | NYGIA (Administrator)


    Residents of Brentwood, N.Y., at a memorial for Nisa Mickens, 15, who was murdered along with her best friend, Kayla Cuevas, 16, last month. The police suspect MS-13, a transnational gang, in the killings. Credit Heather Walsh for The New York Times

    BRENTWOOD, N.Y. — Four dead teenagers. Two weeks. One town. And a ruthless gang, the authorities say, was most likely responsible for the toll. Again.

    On Sept. 13, Nisa Mickens, 15, and her best friend, Kayla Cuevas, 16, were murdered, their battered bodies found near an elementary school here. A week later and just two miles away, the skeletal remains of two more teenagers — identified as Oscar Acosta, 19, and Miguel Garcia-Moran, 15 — were found in the woods near a psychiatric hospital. Oscar had been missing since May, Miguel since February. Their deaths have been ruled homicides.

    Brentwood, a hardscrabble town of nearly 60,000 on Long Island, 40 miles east of Manhattan, has reached another crisis point. For nearly two decades, MS-13, a gang with roots in Los Angeles and El Salvador, has been terrorizing the town, the authorities say, especially its young people. Since 2009, its members have been accused of at least 14 murders, court and police records show.

    School officials are scrambling. Police officers are searching. Students are frightened. Parents are anguished.

    Continue reading the main story



    Continue reading the main story

    “It’s so hard, I’m hurting,” Evelyn Rodriguez, Kayla’s mother, said last week. “I wish I could hold my daughter again.”


    Clockwise from top left, Oscar Acosta, Kayla Cuevas, Miguel Garcia-Moran and Nisa Mickens.

    In her first interview since Kayla’s funeral, Ms. Rodriguez spoke measuredly about how her daughter had been bullied by gang members inside and outside her high school.

    “To me, it’s worse than it was before; it’s everywhere,” said Ms. Rodriguez, a 1987 graduate of Brentwood Ross High School, where her daughter was a student. “This is ridiculous,” she added. “We need some type of assistance to help our police officers here and see if they can come together to figure out a plan to make things better for the kids now.”


    Continue reading the main story

    The path to such a plan, however, runs through a fractured Suffolk County. Its former police chief is headed to jail, its district attorney is under federal investigation and a Justice Department settlement mandated changes in the Police Department in 2013 after findings of bias against Latino residents.

    Tensions simmer here because some residents say they believe an increase in Central American migrants to town has led to the increase in gang violence. According to 2014 census figures compiled by Queens College, Brentwood’s population is 68 percent Latino or Hispanic, with more than 17,000 residents claiming to be from El Salvador.

    Timothy Sini, who became the Suffolk County police commissioner 11 months ago, after his predecessor, James Burke, pleaded guilty to civil rights violations and obstruction of justice, has vowed to eradicate the gangs.


    Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, Kayla’s parents. “It’s so hard, I’m hurting,” Ms. Rodriguez, said. “I wish I could hold my daughter again.” Credit Heather Walsh for The New York Times

    “The only people in Brentwood who have anything to fear are the criminals,” Mr. Sini said. “That’s because there is a tsunami of law enforcement officers at their doorsteps.”

    The department has increased uniformed patrols and door-to-door canvassing, and rejoined the eight-member Long Island Gang Task Force of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Sini said he met recently with dozens of agencies including Homeland Security Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

    “It’s not a good time to be a gang member in Brentwood,” he said.

    One gang member was arrested and was in federal custody for questioning, Mr. Sini added, although a motive for the murders was still unclear. The F.B.I. confirmed it was assisting the police.

    The Brentwood School District held a community forum last month with elected officials and parents that ran for four hours.

    There, according to Ms. Rodriguez, school officials said some students had been “red-flagged” for having possible gang affiliations.


    Rob Mickens and Elizabeth Alvarado, Nisa’s parents, at a vigil for the girls last month. Credit Heather Walsh for The New York Times

    “So if they are red-flagged, why are they in the school?” Ms. Rodriguez said. “Kids are being targeted. They’re trying to find some type of safe way to even go to school,” she added. “Being in school, they always have to look over their shoulder to see who’s walking.”


    Continue reading the main story

    Brentwood has 4,400 high school students divided into two schools, and administrators say the environment is safe.

    “Gang members rarely present themselves in the schools,” Richard Loeschner, the principal of Brentwood Ross High School, said. “If they do, we take care of that pretty quickly.”

    But ultimately, he said, after acknowledging that the administration knew of about 20 to 25 students in the district with possible gang affiliations, there is only so much officials can do.

    “We can’t exclude a kid because we suspect they are in a gang,” Mr. Loeschner said. “That’s state and federal law that they are entitled to an education.”


    Levi McIntyre, the superintendent of the Brentwood School District, at Kayla’s wake. “It’s tearing the fabric of our community apart,” Dr. McIntyre said of gang violence in the town. Credit Heather Walsh for The New York Times

    Even before the girls’ murders, students were subject to random screenings with metal detectors, which have increased over the past few weeks, he added. There are no detectors at the entrances of either high school, however.

    Some parents were concerned that the school’s response to the violence was not proactive enough. Levi McIntyre, the school superintendent, sent an email to parents warning their children not to wear royal blue, the color identified with MS-13, or clothes displaying the Salvadoran flag. A student on the way to school, he wrote, recently had his blue shirt torn off by gang members and burned.

    MS-13 was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by immigrants from El Salvador escaping civil war. The abbreviation stands for Mara Salvatrucha, which roughly translates to “Salvadoran street posse.”

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    The authorities say the gang has been in Suffolk County since around 1998, and is organized in cliques bearing names like the Brentwood Locos Salvatruchas. Leaders gather to discuss their lines of business — extortion, prostitution, robbery, drug dealing — and to authorize the killings of chavalas, or members of rival gangs like the Bloods and the Crips, court papers say.


    Continue reading the main story

    In 2009, a 15-year-old boy, Christopher Hamilton, was fatally shot in the head after an MS-13 crew in search of chavalas opened fire with rifles and handguns on a house party on American Boulevard here.


    The scene outside Kayla’s wake. Credit Heather Walsh for The New York Times

    Two years later, an 18-year-old Brentwood man was fatally shot in his driveway, and a 22-year-old local leader of MS-13 was convicted of the killing.

    “In the past, it used to be like rival gangs on each other,” Dr. McIntyre said. “But now it has taken another turn. When it goes after all kids, it’s a whole new realm. It’s tearing the fabric of our community apart.”

    Noel Vega’s son was a classmate of the murdered girls, who wondered whether he could be next.

    “He’s more upset about the fact that they keep finding bodies,” Mr. Vega said, standing outside a Brentwood funeral home for Kayla’s wake with fellow members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. They are not the only group offering unofficial security to the town; he noted that the crisis even brought the Guardian Angels to Brentwood.

    Of his son, Mr. Vega added: “He actually wants to move out of Brentwood; he wants to move out of state. He’s upset and he fears for the loss of his friends and himself. It gets me upset; we all get upset.”

    The recent murders have exacerbated disputes in the town over immigration policy, which Donald J. Trump, the Republican candidate for president, fueled during last week’s debate by saying that the gangs roaming the streets were made up of illegal immigrants.


    Friends of Kayla wore T-shirts designed in her honor to her wake. Credit Heather Walsh for The New York Times

    “There’s been a huge influx, to be honest with you,” said Ray Mayo, the president of the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens, who added that he was upset over undocumented immigrants crowding rental properties. “It seems like a whole new set of gang members who have stirred the pot up.”

    Two law enforcement authorities, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing murder investigation, said that over the last several years the gang has sought to enlist recent immigrants from Central America because they are often more vulnerable to recruitment.


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    But some recently settled families are just as worried about their own children’s safety.

    “I am afraid, as a Salvadoran,” said Ana, 38, a mother of two girls, one in high school. She fled El Salvador in 2006 and has since become a member of Make the Road New York, an immigrant activist group. She did not want to give her full name for fear of retribution.

    “It makes me feel bad that people think this of all Salvadorans,” she said. “Violence was the reason I left — when they killed my brother. And now we are experiencing the same violence.”

    Distrust of the Suffolk County police among Latinos is palpable and long documented. Residents said they were dismayed by a dearth of Spanish-speaking officers, and undocumented immigrants in particular often worry that if they report information, the authorities will turn them over to immigration officials.


    Supporters at the girls’ vigil. The murders have exacerbated disputes in the town over immigration policy. Credit Heather Walsh for The New York Times

    Mr. Sini said that would not happen, and that he was trying to reassure immigrant communities to work with the police.

    Ms. Rodriguez, whose parents came from Puerto Rico, said that two years ago, when gang members threatened Kayla on a friend’s block, she went to the police.

    “I got attitude like they were talking to somebody off the street,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “They wouldn’t even report it,” she added. “They told me to tell her: ‘Don’t go on the block.’”

    The feeling of helplessness is spreading among the teenagers.

    At a vigil held for the murdered girls before a football game, some students held signs: “Help Us!” “Stop the Violence!” Others shook their heads when Mr. Sini told students to call a hotline for investigative tips.

    “We’re the ones out here, dealing with it all,” said a 16-year-old boy who would give only his nickname, Tiny T. “They think they can do something, but they’re just fooling. They can’t do nothing.”


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    At Kayla’s wake, a 17-year-old student too afraid of MS-13 to give his name said: “You don’t know who’s watching you, who’s following you. Just yesterday, a group of guys in a car with blue bandannas followed a girl home in Brentwood.”

    He, his mother and his cousin wore T-shirts that read “Justice for Kayla,” which they had printed at the mall. “Afraid?” his cousin, a 19-year-old woman, said. “There’s not even a limit to afraid.”

    At memorials for both Kayla and Nisa, on the cul-de-sac near where their bodies were found, basketballs sat among the glass candles and deflated balloons. Kayla, a tenacious athlete, was going to try out for the varsity basketball team this year. Instead, her mother was starting a scholarship fund called Ball Is My Life.

    Ms. Rodriguez hoped her daughter’s death would at least stop the cycle. “It can’t go on anymore,” she said.

    Correction: October 2, 2016

    An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of the mother of Kayla Cuevas, one of the girls who was killed in what the authorities said was a gang-related homicide. Her name is Evelyn Rodriguez, not Eveylyn. The error was repeated in a picture caption.

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