What to Know
- A vigil was held Monday evening for four young men found brutally killed in a Long Island park
- Two of the men went to Bellport High School, where the vigil was held; some family members of the victims were in attendance
- The FBI has joined the investigation into the killings, which happened in a community that's been dealing with gang violence for years
Dozens of family friends and community members gathered outside a Long Island high school Monday night to remember four young men killed at a park last week — brutal violence authorities believe is connected to the gang MS-13.
It was a somber scene outside Bellport High School as a crowd mourned the four victims, two of whom, 16-year-old Justin Llivicura and 18-year-old Jorge Tigre, went to the school.
At the vigil, Justin’s father Marcelo Llivicura said in Spanish that his daughters are terrified it could happen again. Fighting back tears, Justin’s aunt described how humble of a person he was and how she'll miss when he'd come over to her house and give her a hug and a kiss.
The Llivicura family will have the funeral mass for Justin at St. Joseph the Worker Church in East Patchogue on Tuesday.
The family of Jorge Tigre, a classmate of Llivicura who was also killed, were too heartbroken to speak.
Grief counselors and extra police officers were at the high school on Monday and will be there for the remainder of the week. Students called it sad and strange that two of their classmates were suddenly gone.
James Cassidy shook off disbelief as he remembered classmate Tigre.
“He didn’t deserve to be murdered,” Cassidy said. “I feel bad, especially for his family, because he’s an honor student.”
Parents are left struggling with this violence-filled reality.
“It has shocked our world,” Meghan Vanderhoof said. “And it shows unfortunately it’s everywhere and none of us are immune.”
Llivicura and Tigre were two of four young men found dead in Central Islip Recreation Village Park Wednesday night. The other two were 18-year-old Jefferson Villalobos, 18, and his cousin, 20-year-old Michael Banegas.
Llivicura went to the park with friends on Tuesday but had not been answering his phone since then, relatives said. The family filed a missing person report with police on Wednesday.
Another friend who was with the group at the park managed to escape, according to a cousin of Villalobos. He told Villalobos' family he was hanging out with friends, then saw men come out from the trees with machetes.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said Friday the investigation is "very active" and that police planned to pursue the same strategies that led to the arrests of the 160 MS-13 gang members since last fall.
"Obviously we know the community is very on edge," he said. "We will be enhancing patrols in the area significantly and for an indefinite period of time."
The FBI, meanwhile, has joined the probe into the grisly discoveries of young men, who appeared to have been killed with a sharp-edged instrument, in a manner consistent with the modus operandi of the violent MS-13 gang, Sini said.
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.
The gang problem is so systemic in Suffolk County that outreach groups like Strong Youth Start are working with kids in middle school to show them there are alternatives to life with the gangs.