The mothers of two men shot to death in Central Islip about two weeks ago met each other for the first time Saturday and solemnly embraced during a community prayer and peace rally in Brentwood.
More than 100 people at the rally in Ross Memorial Park joined the mothers of Derrick Mayes and Keenan Russell, both 21, during a morning filled with prayers and moments of silence to increase awareness and fight gang-related murder and violence. A state lawmaker said he introduced a bill last week designed to increase penalties for gang violence.
"I'm happy that the community is trying to come together to stop the killing of young men, but at the same time it's not going to bring mine back," Russell's mother, Margaret Smith, said after the rally.
Law enforcement sources have said the killings, less than two days apart, may have been committed by MS-13 gang members as part of a gang initiation ritual. No one has been charged in the shooting deaths of Mayes, a warehouse worker, and Russell, an aspiring rapper, whose family members have said were not gang members. Mayes was expecting his first child with his girlfriend in December.
"This has been a very trying week for the family who lost loved ones and for this community that is grieving for two young men that had their whole lives ahead of them," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at the rally. "We are grieving right now, but we have to be inspired so that this doesn't happen again."
The event was organized by State Sen. Lee M. Zeldin (R-Shirley), who was accompanied by other local, state and federal elected officials who represent Brentwood and Central Islip; gun-violence victims; and community and religious leaders.
"We want to honor and remember the life of Derrick and Keenan," said Zeldin, who announced his bill that includes harsher penalties for gang members, along with rehabilitation and education. "There are opportunities when tragedies like this occur."
Mayes' mother, Sabrina Mayes, 39, has designated her son Davonte, 17, as the man of the house. The teen said he has wanted to be a police officer since he was 7.
"I have to try to watch out for everyone," said Davonte, who was with his mother, brother Jahjuan, 7, and sister Shanta, 20. "I have to protect my mother. She lost her first son."
Also at the rally was Wilson Batista Jr., 17, who was shot in the face as he played basketball at Timberline Park in Brentwood in 2009. Police said he was mistakenly targeted as a rival gang member. He lost his right eye. He also lost some cognitive brain function, has poor vision in his left eye and has limited use of his left arm.
"I am here to bring awareness to the crime that is going on," Batista said. "People are being killed left and right. It's going to have to stop with awareness from when they are young."