More than a dozen members of the notorious MS-13 gang were indicted for seven murders in Long Island, including the grisly killings of three high school students last year.
The 13 alleged gang members ten of whom are undocumented immigrants face seven murder charges, racketeering, attempted murder, assault, obstruction of justice and arson in the 41-count indictment.
They include Jairo Saenz, 19, a leader of one of the local factions of MS-13 called Funny, and his older brother Alexi, 22, leader of another MS-13 associated gang named Blasty.
Two of the victims were best friends Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, who attended Brentwood High School in Suffolk County, New York City.
The girls were beaten to death with baseball bats and hacked with machetes after they went for a walk together on September 12. Their bodies were found over the next few days.
The skeletal remains of a third Brentwood High School student, Jose Pena-Hernandez, 18, was discovered the following month on the grounds of an abandoned state psychiatric hospital a quiet wooded area that had served as an unofficial burial ground for the gang’s victims.
Police say Pena, who was murdered on June 3, 2016, showed evidence of ‘repeated stab wounds and beatings with a bat, a blunt force instrument.’
‘Law enforcement was determined that these brutal murders wouldn’t turn into cold cases,’ US Attorney Robert L. Capers told reporters.
Pena was an alleged MS-13 gang member who was lured to the grounds of an abandoned state psychiatric hospital by fellow gang members he thought were his friends, Capers said.
Those friends turned on him and repeatedly stabbed him to death, he said.
His death had gone largely publicly unmarked until police began discovering corpses in the weeks after Cuevas and Nisa died.
Eleven gang killings in Suffolk County last year were attributed to MS-13. 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.
Two other killings of Brentwood youths, ages 15 and 19, whose bodies were discovered last year in secluded spots in the hamlet, remain unsolved.
In the case of the two high school girls, Robert L. Capers, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, told the New York Times how Kayla had been ‘feuding’ with gang members at school and on social media.
She and her friend Nisa, who was simply ‘at the wrong place at the wrong time’ were walking along the street at around 8.30pm when Selvin Chavez and Enrique Portillo, both 19, along with two juvenile gang members, were cruising in a car, Capers said.
Capers said the MS-13 members spotted the girls and called the Saenz brothers who reportedly gave the order to kill them.
They attacked Nisa first, beating her so brutally with baseball bats and machetes that her body was unrecognizable.
Kayla ‘ran for her life’ and even made it into the nearby woods before the gang members caught up with her and murdered her.
‘This was the worst I had ever seen,’ Sini said of the crime scene.
Gang violence has been a problem in Brentwood and some surrounding Long Island communities 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.
‘While violence and brutality are trademarks of the MS-13 gang, the murders of these three teens are particularly disturbing,’ U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in announcing the indictment Thursday.
Cuevas was targeted last summer by a group of four gang members, including two juveniles, because she had been feuding with MS-13 members at school and on social media.
The posse, which had been roving in a car looking for gang enemies, attacked when they came across her walking with Nisa in the street.
‘(Nisa) Mickens was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with her childhood friend,’ Capers said.
Robert Mickens, Nisa’s father, said he felt blessed that police had made arrests.
‘I’ve got some type of closure even though my daughter is not back. It’s closure to my family,’ he said.
The indictments came as two members of the same gang, based in Houston, were charged on suspicion of killing one teenager and kidnapping of another, authorities said.