The FBI has joined the probe into the grisly discoveries of four bodies three brutally killed young men and one boy in a park in a Long Island neighborhood that has for years contended with a growing problem of gang violence, authorities said Friday.
The victims were found in the Central Islip Recreation Village Park near Lowell Avenue and Clayton Street in Central Islip Wednesday night, authorities said.
They appeared to have been killed with a sharp-edged instrument, in a manner consistent with the modus operandi of the violent MS-13 gang, Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said at a news conference Thursday.
The victims have been tentatively identified, but their names had not been released as of Friday morning. One of the victims was 16, two were 18 and the fourth victim was 20, officials said Thursday.
As investigators worked to confirm the identities of those who had been killed, families of people who had been missing started showing up to the park.
Parents and relatives of missing 16-year-old Justin Llivicura had gone to the park earlier in the day Thursday to talk with police officers and ask for more information on the bodies found there.
The teen went to the park with friends on Tuesday but has not been answering his phone since then, relatives said. The family filed a missing person report with police on Wednesday.
“I’m looking for my son,” said father Marcelo Llivicura. “I don’t know if this is my son or not.”
The killings happened in recent days, and all the young men suffered “significant trauma” to their bodies, Sini said.
“We’re going to do everything in our powers to solve these murders. We have all hands on deck, and we’re working closely with the FBI,” he said.
Authorities are offering a $25,000 cash reward for information in the case.
Another press conference is scheduled for later in the day Friday.
The discovery of the bodies comes about a month after the arrest of eight MS-13 gang members in connection with the September killings of two teenage girls in nearby Brentwood.
Gang violence has been a problem in Central Islip, Brentwood and other 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 girls, along with two other Brentwood High School students involved in separate killings, sparked outrage.
Brentwood and Central Islip are neighboring communities comprised of large populations of working class Hispanic and other minorities, located about 2.5 miles apart.
Prosecutors said Kayla Cuevas, 16, 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 Mickens, 15, in the street. The inseparable best friends were attacked with a machete and baseball bats, officials said.
Nisa “was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with her childhood friend,” former U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in announcing the arrests. The site where the bodies were found is just blocks away from the federal courthouse where the alleged killers are being prosecuted.
The MS-13 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’s now a major international criminal enterprise with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states.
Sini said, “This is certainly a reminder of how violent they are, that they’re still here.”
“This is a long-term war,” he said, invoking his past declarations of going to battle against the violent gang in Suffolk. “We maintain our resolve, we will solve these murders and we will continue to fight.”