CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — At least 15 members of the MS-13 street gang have been arrested on murder and other charges following a spate of bloodshed that included the massacre of four young men in a Long Island park and the killing of a suspected gang rival inside a deli, police said Wednesday.
Six of those charged are juveniles who participated in the deadly acts, said Timothy Sini, Suffolk County’s police commissioner.
The majority of the arrests happened in the past week, though Sini noted his department has been waging an aggressive campaign against the gang following the deaths of 11 people in the Brentwood and Central Islip communities since last September. Some of those killed have included high school students.
Sini spoke to reporters after federal authorities announced a superseding indictment charging a wide-ranging series of crimes including murder, assault, weapons and drug charges.
Three suspected MS-13 gang members rounded up in the Suffolk County police sweep are among those named in the indictment on murder and other charges stemming from the killings in April. A fourth gang member named in the indictment in the park murders isn’t in custody, according to court documents.
“We’re going to keep the pressure on MS-13,” Sini told reporters outside a federal courthouse on Long Island, located in the same town where the park massacre occurred. “We have to make sure it is uncomfortable as possible for MS-13.”
MS-13, also called Mara Salvatrucha, is a major international criminal enterprise, with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states. It 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.
The killings of the four young men found slaughtered in the park in April punctuated a spate of violence in Central Islip and neighboring Brentwood, east of New York City.
Last September, two teenage girls who were walking in their Brentwood neighborhood were attacked with machetes and baseball bats. Four people were charged in March in their deaths and could face the death penalty if convicted.
The violence has led to congressional hearings, tweets from the White House and a visit to Long Island from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“As I said when I visited Long Island after these murders took place in April, MS-13’s motto may be ‘kill, rape and control’, but the Department of Justice’s motto is justice for victims and consequences for criminals,” Sessions said in a press release issued Wednesday. “We are committed to bringing violent criminals to justice, and this indictment is the next step in our mission of finding, prosecuting and eradicating the MS-13 threat.”
The Suffolk County Police Department has arrested more than 160 suspected gang members in the county since September, including many on multiple occasions, as part of a crackdown on the violence, Sini said.
According to a recent court filing, the four young men were lured to a park by two female associates of the MS-13 street gang, which was hunting for rivals and perceived enemies. Once there, the youths — some still in high school — were surrounded and attacked with machetes, knives and wooden clubs “in a horrific frenzy of violence,” according to the court papers. A fifth young man who had accompanied the victims to the park escaped.
Federal prosecutors said the four victims, plus the person who escaped, “were marked for death merely because they were suspected of disrespecting the MS-13 and being rival gang members.”
The four killed in the attack were Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue; Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport; Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood; and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida, who was on Long Island visiting his cousin Banegas at the time. Their families have denied that any of the men were in a gang.
This story has been corrected to reflect that not all of the defendants are charged in connection with the park killings and that four people, not two, were charged in the killings of the teenage girls.