WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On June 20, 2018, the Dominican gang Trinitarios in the Bronx killed 15-year-old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz. His death was an unfortunate case of mistaken identity, as Lesandro was not their actual target.
Outrage arose when a graphic, violent video of the teen's murder circulated the internet. 14 members of the Trinitario were arrested in connection to his death.
THE MURDER (1)
At 10:30 PM on June 20, 2018, Lesandro left his apartment to meet and hang out with a friend. While he was walking, he noticed 4 suspicious looking vehicles and became alarmed and worried, and started to run. He was chased for several blocks by the gang members who were driving the cars.
Lesandro went inside a bodega in Belmont, Bronx, near his home for safety, but 5 of the gang members followed him inside. They then dragged him outside where 3 other members were waiting. There were a few witnesses from the bodega, including the owner who did not try to hide the teen from the danger.
The murder was captured on CCTV from inside the bodega and a cell phone from a resident of the building's upper floor. In the video, you can see a dozen or more men arriving and then departing the scene. The CCTV footage shows multiple different men stabbing Lesandro with knives and machetes.
The video also shows him getting up and re-entering the store, but being sent back outside, so he began running away. He ran to the hospital and collapsed near a security booth outside. In the videos, people who were helping him are screaming frantically, attempting to hold cloth to his wounds, but it was no use. He died a few minutes after collapsing.
Two police officers had been standing nearby but did not do anything to intervene.
According to Lesandro's sister's boyfriend, one of the Trinitario gang members stated on snapchat that the murder was a case of mistaken identity, and they were trying to target another curly haired male teenager who was in a sex video with one of the member's nieces. The gang apologized to the Guzman-Feliz family for the killing on social media, and the gang leader kicked the killers out who had been involved in the murder.
Though the police corroborate that they believed the murder was a case of mistaken identity and that Lesandro was not the target, they believed that the killers believed him to be a member of a rival gang.
The murder, and subsequent circulation of the brutal video, sparked outrage. The hashtag #justiceforjunior was created and went viral, along with posts on Twitter and Instagram regarding the case.
THE VICTIM AND THE KILLERS
Lesandro Guzman-Feliz was known as "Junior" by his friends. He was born on November 11, 2002 and was 15 when he was murdered. His parents were Lisandro Guzman and Leandra Feliz, and he had one sister, Genesis, and one brother, Manuel. He was a sophomore at the Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School. (1)
Lesandro wanted to become a detective, and was involved in the NYPD Explorers Program for youths interested in careers in law enforcement. His funeral was attended by thousands, and the Pallbearers wore New York Yankees jerseys, as they were his favorite baseball team. (1)
Because of his interest in the NYPD, they established a scholarship in his name after his untimely death. Additionally, the corner of Bathgate Avenue and 183rd street, where he was killed, was ceremonially renamed "Lesandro Junior Guzman-Feliz Way". (1)
There were 14 suspects who were connected to Lesanrdo's death from the Dominican gang Trinitario. Their ages ranged from 18 to 29. The police believed Diego Suero to be the ringleader who had ordered the murder, and that Jonaiki Martinez-Estrella delivered the final blow that killed the innocent teenager. (1)
4 of the suspects, Daniel Fernandez, Jose Muniz, Manual Rivera (the youngest at 18) and Daniel Hernandez, all received death threats while incarcerated at Rikers Island, even from members of their own gang. They were segregated from other prisoners while awaiting trial. (1)
After almost an entire year, 5 of the gang members were convicted of first degree murder, second degree murder, gang assault and conspiracy. The convicted killers were Elvin Garcia, 23, Jose Muniz, 21, Jonaiki Martinez-Estrella, 24, Manuel Rivera, 18 and Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez, 24. (1)
The justice called the killing "senseless", "savage" and "cowardly". The trial lasted 5 weeks before the men were found guilty after 2 days of deliberation. Martinez, who struck the fatal blow, was given life without parole. Muniz, Garcia and Rodriguez Hernandez were given the possibility of parole after 25 years, and after 23 years for Rivera. (2)
Despite Martinez apologizing to the family, saying it was not his intention to kill the child and was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, no one was moved by his words. Rivera's lawyer tried to argue that he was "seduced by a cult" and at 18, too young to know what he was doing, but he was still sentenced to 23 years in prison. (2)
"All of his dreams and everything just got cut short. He probably didn't even know why." And how could he? He didn't do anything wrong. He had just gone over to a friend's house, according to his mom, to lend him $5. Then to be attacked by a gang who you have no affiliation with is horrifying in every way. (2)
The family was, understandably, not comforted by the apologies of the gang who killed their son and brother, knocking him to the ground and dragging him out of the store he tried to take refuge in. At that point, they hadn't even confessed to the police, which is all his mother wanted. Justice. (3)
Lesandro's father said that the fun weekends he used to have with his son are now a "struggle to stay busy" to keep his mind off of the missing piece. He told the defendants that they would never know the pain that they caused. His mother emotionally told the men that there were 2 deaths that night, because the loss of her son has left her dead inside. (2)
I am pleased to know that the 5 men most responsible for the death of this child are behind bars, but horrified to know that gang violence isn't an isolated incident, and in a world where murder is part of life, cases of mistaken identity cannot be that uncommon.
I am shocked I have never heard this story. A 15-year-old kid walking down the street only to be stabbed to death for no reason, and somehow gathering the strength to run to the hospital before collapsing, succumbing to injuries that shouldn't have been his. It is as tragic as it gets.
It has been 2 years and there has been #justiceforjunior, but no amount of years on a prison sentence can bring back the 15-year-old kid who wanted to make a difference in the world.