Federal agents said Thursday that they have caught the members of a violent street gang who killed three teenagers last year, including two girls who were inseparable best friends at their Long Island high school.
Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, were slaughtered in a residential neighborhood near an elementary school in a Sept. 13 attack that came amid a national conversation about illegal immigration. Last December, Donald Trump referenced the killings in Brentwood during a profile for his Time magazine “Person of the Year” award after being elected president.
Within a few weeks of the girls’ deaths, the remains of three other Brentwood teens were found hidden in secluded areas. The victims included Jose Pena-Hernandez, 18, who had vanished in June.
Thirteen members of the MS-13 gang are facing federal charges in connection with the investigation, though not all are being charged in the killings, local and federal officials announced Thursday.
The identities of the suspects, including their immigration status, were not immediately released. U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers and local police officials scheduled a midday press conference to discuss the charges.
A law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the suspects include people who will be charged with the deaths of Mickens, Cuevas and Pena-Hernandez. That official was not authorized to release information and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Gang violence has been a problem in Brentwood and some surrounding Long Island towns for more than a decade, but Suffolk County police and the FBI began pouring resources into a crackdown after the killings of the high school girls sparked outrage.
Some people complained that police, school officials and others were not doing enough to stem the violence. Since then, police have arrested more than 125 suspected MS-13 gang members in Brentwood and elsewhere. MS-13 has been blamed for at least 30 other killings on Long Island since 2010.
The gang, also called Mara Salvatrucha, is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador. It grew after some members were deported to El Salvador, helping to turn that country into one of the most violent places in the world. It is now a major international criminal enterprise with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states.
One of Trump’s priorities is a crackdown on immigrants who are in the country illegally and have committed crimes. He promised as much in his December interview with Time magazine, when he referenced a Newsday story about the killings.
“They come from Central America. They’re tougher than any people you’ve ever met,” he said. “They’re killing and raping everybody out there. They’re illegal. And they are finished.”
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Frank Eltman