Gang Members, Accused of Killing Youths, Arrested in Brentwood

Left to right: Victims Kayla Cuevas, Nisa Mickens and José Peña (Photo via Noticia)

Thirteen members of the MS-13 gang were detained by law enforcement on Thursday and have been charged with a series of crimes, including the murder of two teenage girls from Brentwood and a young man who is believed to have been in contact with gang members.

The Brentwood community is celebrating the arrest of the 13 gang members, eight of whom are accused of killing 15-year-old Nisa Mickens, 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, and 18-year-old José Peña-Hernández by beating them with a baseball bat and stabbing them. Officials say that Cuevas had previously argued with one of the gang members and that Mickens was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Prosecutors say that Peña-Hernández was lured into the woods near the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood by gang members who he considered his friends. Once there, he was stabbed and beaten to death. His body was found on Oct. 17.

Still, in an exclusive interview with Noticia, Sara Hernández, the young man’s mother, said that her son did not belong to the gang.

“My son was killed because he refused to join the gang,” she said, adding that she wants to “clean her son’s image, who was a hardworking young man. He worked with his father until they kidnapped him.”

The U.S. District Court in Central Islip charged 13 members of the MS-13 gang with racketeering, seven murders, attempted murders, assaults, obstruction of justice, arson, conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and related firearms and conspiracy charges.

In a warranted search of the home of two of the leaders of MS-13 – who, with two others, were accused of the Sept. 13 killings – agents seized an arsenal that included a loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol, numerous rounds of ammunition – including bullets for 9mm, .38 and .357 guns, among other calibers – machetes, a sword, an ax and knives. The authorities also seized marijuana packed to sell, accounting books and MS-13 paraphernalia.

“The brutal murders of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas and the savage killing of José Peña-Hernández, allegedly committed by these defendants, exemplify the depravity of a gang whose primary mission is murder,” said U.S. attorney Robert Capers.

Two other MS-13 members, who were minors at the time of murders, were charged with killing Cuevas and Mickens, and a third member was accused of Peña-Hernández’s murder. As per the law, these cases remain sealed for the moment.

“We can’t let gangs overrun our streets. This is our home. We have to come together and make sure law enforcement has the tools it needs to do its job – such as license plate readers. Last year, I secured funding for this new technology. It is my hope that with tools like this more cases will be solved and prevented by their mere presence as we move forward,” said 6th District Assemblyman Phil Ramos.

He added, “It is worth noting that the arrests were made as a result of the cooperation of our community with the police. We all win when we work together.”

The fear that took over this Long Island area now seems to be giving residents a moment to breathe. For months, they held vigils and protests to reject the violence experienced in schools and in the streets. In the midst of the deportations scenario, the community supports having ICE prioritize the processing of criminals, hoping to bring peace and optimism back to Brentwood and Central Islip.

However, other residents say that deportation is not the end-all solution, as “there are criminals, like these gang members who killed the girls in Brentwood, who should not be deported because they will come back. Let them rot in jail!” said Jairo Zuluaga, a journalist and TV host who lives in Baywood.

“It is a first step in giving some relief to the families and the community,” said Mónica Martínez, who represents the 9th Legislative District. “It is a joint effort of the community and the police, and it is important for us to continue strengthening these relationships to improve safety and end this malady,” she added.

She added that “the police are working with the community, and their role is to provide safety to everyone, regardless of their immigration status.” Elected officials have stressed that the community should not be afraid to contact the police to report these cases. “Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said that the county does not agree with the new administration’s policies, and encouraged citizens to continue reporting on gang activity,” she added.

Community leaders such as Teatro Yerbabruja’s director Margarita Espada, whose cultural center creates activities for youths to show them a better path, is also celebrating the news. Still, she said that this is just part of the authorities’ job.

“I am glad that they are working to keep the community safe and that they are doing the job they are supposed to do, but that is what is expected of them,” said Espada, who continues to create space for dialogue at her arts center. “[The gang members] are paying for what they did but, on the other hand, it breaks my heart to know that this is young people killing young people,” she concluded.

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