The slaying of four males in Central Islip appears to be consistent with the brutal tactics of the ultra-violent MS-13 street gang, Suffolk County police’s top cop said Thursday.
Police discovered the bodies at 8 p.m. Wednesday in a wooded area several hundred feet south of a soccer field across the street from the Central Islip Recreation Center on Clayton Street, but authorities did not say what prompted them to search the area. The remains were taken to the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office, where autopsies will be performed to confirm the victims’ identities and cause of death.
“We can confirm that the manner in which they were killed is consistent with the modus operandi of MS-13,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini told reporters during an afternoon press conference held near where the bodies were found. He characterized that MO as the use of “extreme violence” and “sharp instruments,” but he cautioned that investigators won’t be “ruling out anything.”
The Central Islip discoveries come six months after six victims of gang violence—most of them teenagers who were students at Brentwood High School—were found dead in a five-week span in neighboring Brentwood. Thirteen MS-13 street gang members were recently charged in connection with some of those cases and others.
In the tragic case of best friends Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, they were attacked last September by alleged gang members armed with baseball bats and machetes. Mickens’ dead body was “almost unrecognizable,” former federal prosecutor Robert Capers said last month. In a previous incident, Jose Pena-Hernandez died after gang members took turns slashing and stabbing him with a machete, officials said.
“There’s no question that MS-13 still exists in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “This is a long-term war. Make no mistake about it—it’s a war.”
Sini did not release the tentative identities of the victims, but said one was 16 years old, two were 18, and one was 20. All four were victims of the same incident and all “suffered from significant trauma throughout their body” from a “sharp or edged instrument.” The murders appear to have been committed at the location where the victims were found, he added.
The commissioner declined to elaborate on the date and time of the slayings, instead saying they occurred in the last few days.
“We are going to do everything in our power to solve these murders,” he said. “We have all hands on deck, and we are working closely with the FBI.”
Police also announced a $25,000 “fast cash” Crime Stoppers reward for any information leading to the arrest of the assailants. Anyone with information can call 1-800-220-TIPS.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone released a statement condemning “these heinous acts,” which he said would not go unpunished.
“I have full confidence that the outstanding men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department under the leadership of Commissioner Tim Sini and Chief Stuart Cameron will do what is necessary to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” Bellone said.
“On behalf of all Suffolk County residents, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families, friends, and loved ones during this difficult period,” he added.
Suffolk Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), whose district includes Central Islip, took to Facebook to denounce the senseless violence.
“The disregard for human life is unfathomable,” Martinez wrote. “The disregard for the pain, fear and suffering the families and community will experience is uncalled for. Lives being lost and for what? To what end?”
“I am mixed with emotions and my condolences go out to the families of the victims,” she continued. “We must stand together beside our neighbor. If there was ever a moment for all of Suffolk County; specifically, Central Islip & Brentwood residents to reflect and reaffirm our most basic beliefs as a community, now is the time.”
Even Republican Congressman Peter King, whose district extends from Nassau to that part of Suffolk, weighed in to express his alarm and urge local people to come forward to help the investigation.
Tragic discovery of 4 more bodies in Central Islip. These killings show need for full community cooperation w Suffolk PD/fed law enforcement
— Rep. Pete King (@RepPeteKing) April 13, 2017
Debra Cavanagh, a local educator and president of Central Islip Coalition of Good Neighbors, a group dedicated to safety and quality of life issues in the neighborhood, said she was “upset” and “shocked” to hear about the homicides.
Cavanagh said the the tragic deaths should serve as reminder that the community needs to come together collectively to address violence.
“It comes up, it goes away, it comes back, it goes away,” she said of violent episodes in Central Islip. “We’ve been dealing with this for a long time.” She added that people “come out” when there’s a problem, but when the issue dissipates, “they disappear.”
“They need to get active in the community and not be complacent,” she said of residents.
Following the recent slayings in Brentwood, Cavanagh noted how the deaths there impacted students in her school, some of whom were afraid to even go to class.
“It does affect the kids personally,” she said.
–With additional reporting by Rashed Mian