Days after the gruesome discovery of four bodies in Central Islip on Long Island — the four young men are believed to have been victims of the deadly MS-13 street gang — the spotlight is on Suffolk County as lawmakers, educators and a horrified public try to shine a light on MS-13 and seek answers on how to stem the tide of escalating violence.
The vicious murders have shocked a nation, with President Donald Trump vowing to crack down on the violence and blaming former President Barack Obama in a tweet for failed policies that have allowed gang members to cross the border at alarming rates.
MS-13, which was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by immigrants fleeing El Salvador’s civil war, is known for its brutal violence, including machete attacks and home invasions.
But for all the public outcry, for those directly impacted by the quadruple homicide in Central Islip, the heartbreak is deeply personal.
The four young men found dead on the night of April 12 at Central Islip Recreation Village Park suffered trauma from a sharp-edged instrument. They were only 16, 18, 18 and 20 years-old; their lives just beginning.
One of the victims, Jorge Tigre, a Bellport High School honor student, was not a gang member and allegedly became a target after he refused to associate with gang members following the murder of two girls in Brentwood, Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, who were murdered in September by MS-13 gang members with machetes, according to a Newsday report.
Thirteen MS-13 members have been charged with seven murders, including those of Mickens and Cuevas, that occurred in Brentwood and Central Islip over the past several years.
Tigre’s sister Monica Tigre, in an interview with Patch, declined to discuss what may have led to her brother’s murder, but said she and her family are left with only memories.
“The only thing I can said he was a wonderful person. He was always smiling and helping my family and me. I will remember him — his smile and his kindness,” Tigre said.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help Tigre’s family with funeral expenses. “Jorge Tigre was viciously murdered along with three other boys in suspected gang violence,” the fundraiser page says. “Jorge was only 18-years-old. As a community, lets help Jorge’s parents give their son a proper burial. And more importantly, let’s all please pray for justice for Jorge and the other victims.
Trying to illuminate the dark reality of an MS-13 member’s life, *Elmer — his real name was withheld to protect his identity — a former MS-13 member who was able to escape the gang’s tentacles and is now a member of Council for Unity, shares his story.
Council for Unity is a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn that works with schools and jails to help gang members find a new path and self-empowerment through education and lessons in “leadership, self-expression, mediation, conflict resolution and advocacy,” according to the group’s website.
Telling his story, Elmer said: “I joined the MS-13 gang right after my mom died. I was 8-years-old. The gang was, for me, a new life, a new family.”
After an initiation when he was jumped, Elmer said, “They showed me everything I needed to know and then I started a new life by busting gangs, robbing, beating our enemies, doing any type of drugs every day, every night, shooting people, drinking every day.”
When he was 13, Elmer said he was shot three times and almost lost his leg. “I’ve been shot, stabbed almost to the point of dying and still didn’t come to my senses. I spent my young life mostly in jail because of the violent and criminal things that I did. I lost two of my best friends when I was 15,” he said.
And then came Council for Unity, he said.
“God gave me a second chance,” Elmer said. “The Council for Unity helped me to stay away from gangs, showed me the other way of life, the other way to live without being a gang member, showed me love, the love I was looking for, the support and real brothers and sisters that I didn’t have, a family to trust, a family to talk to. Council for Unity saved my life.”
Elmer said he made the decision to leave the gang because he was tired of “seeing young people on the street getting killed every day. I was tired of funerals. Tired of watching kids join gangs, doing drugs in their early age. I decide to change when I saw two friends get hit with a straight bullet . . I’ve made too many mothers cry. I refuse to let another tear be shed because of me.”
Today, Elmer is working, has a girlfriend and a new life.
“Getting out of a gang is hard,” he admitted. “You might be beaten or killed. You think being in a gang is cool? You’re wrong. All it’s going to do is bring is problems to your life. If knowing gang life was so surrounded by death, I don’t know how anyone could want to get into a gang. The way out is not by the guns and violence — it is by using our minds.”
How did they get here? Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa outlines MS-13’s migration to Long Island
The recent murders have put the insidious gang violence on Long Island on the international canvas, with the world watching and wondering how such gruesome violence has come to infiltrate sleepy, suburban communities.
Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, a non-profit volunteer safety patrol organization whose members are known for their trademark red berets, spoke to Patch about the path MS-13 has taken to Long Island.
“There was a very violent civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. In 12 years 75,000 people were killed.
It created a refugee crisis and many El Salvadorians fled North to Los Angeles. They settled in Mexican neighborhoods and immediately were preyed upon by the largest Los Angeles street gang, the 18th Street gang, which got started in Los Angeles in 1965,” he said. “In order to protect themselves from the 18th Street gang, the El Salvadorians formed MS-13 and started to defend their turf. And even though they were outnumbered they proved to be durable and extremely vicious.”
The “Mexican Mafia,” which controlled the Latinos in the California prison system, had MS-13 join their ranks, Sliwa said.
“This larger group was referred to as the Surenos. That’s why, to this day, MS-13 is sometimes referred to as SUR-13. But their enemy continued to be 18th Street gang — and that is similar to what exists presently in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. It is MS-13 vs. 18th Street. MS-13, with this newfound strength had more protection in the barrios and prisons of Southern California,” he said.
Next, Sliwa said, as El Salvadorians migrated east, looking for work, they landed in large numbers, first in Fairfax County, Va,. which is right outside of Washington, D.C.
“They then followed the trail up into Nassau and Suffolk counties, where there was a lot of day laborer work,” he said. “In the early 90s they embedded themselves into Fairfax County and in the late 90s they began to spread into Long Island. Along the way, MS-13 started to recruit Guatemalans and Hondurans who were also being picked on by the Mexican 18th Street gang.”
“MS-13 uses the machete as a weapon of terror. They will slash their victims, slice off fingers and limbs and on occasion, behead their intended targets.”
The machete is a hallmark of bloody MS-13 crime, Sliwa said. “The weapon of choice for MS-13 is the machete, which can be homemade in metal shops or garages,” he said. “Unlike other gangs, which prefer guns, Ms-13 uses the machete as a weapon of terror.
They will slash their victims, slice off fingers and limbs and on occasion, behead their intended targets. It is done to silence any potential snitches. Since their main form of getting money is to shake down and extort their own community, the machete spreads fear to those who are being extorted.”
The machete, he added, is also a weapon that is used to do field work and gardening and can easily be transported around to do work. “But its secondary purpose is to spread fear,” Sliwa said.
Life in the MS-13 gang
Sliwa said those who join or affiliate themselves with MS-13 have been initiated into, or joined, a “para military group with a strong code of internal discipline. To slight, diss or repudiate your membership in MS-13 means that you are to be disciplined. There are weekly meetings and dues that are to be paid. To ignore these responsibilities of being a member of MS-13 will earn you a brutal beatdown. MS-13 is paranoid about those who are perceived to be snitches.”
Robert DeSena, president and founder of Council for Unity, said many who want to join MS-13 are beaten as a form of initiation. “They have different modes of assault. They’re ruthless. They’re violent and come from an extremely violent county.
For many MS-13 gang members recruited young, whose agendas include unspeakable acts of brutality, DeSena said. Gang members come from El Salvador, an “intense” link, he said. “If they get deported, they will be killed. They have nothing to lose,” he said. “Trying to infiltrate them? It’s easier to infiltrate the mob.”
That’s why an alternative such as Council for Unity, he said, is a “miracle program,” touching lives in prison and showing young people a new way of life.
Some young people, DeSena said, are recruited in El Salvador and then head to communities in Long Island where they find comrades. “It’s almost like a highway here,” he said.
Enforcement efforts to reign in the mayhem
From the federal government to local law enforcement, officials appalled by the staggering violence have vowed a crackdown.
“The Suffolk County Police Department is doing everything in our power to solve these murders. It’s all hands on deck,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We are working closely with the FBI to solve these homicides.”
Sini, according to News12, has called MS-13 “the greatest public safety issue in Suffolk.”