They lived separate lives and were born in families from three different parts of the world. Last week, Suffolk police said the victims of violence were linked by an ongoing war in which they were mere bystanders. Two were shot, one fatally, by alleged MS-13 members who mistook them for rivals, police said. The third was brutally murdered in Brentwood last week after he apparently claimed membership in the same gang that drove him from his native country. The attacks were among a string police connect to gangs, including the death of Eber Lopez, 16, killed after leaving a party in Greenport in June.
Wilson Batista Jr.
A few hundred yards from where 13-year-old Wilson Batista Jr. lived with his parents and big sister, Timberline Park was a natural hangout for the eighth-grader. The park, an undistinguished stretch of grass and ballfields in Brentwood, was seemingly safe, his father said.
"We never had a problem before - but then we had a problem," said his father, also named Wilson Batista, 51.
Wilson, a student at North Middle School, was there on the evening of June 15, playing basketball on the cracked courts on the park's western edge. He was taking a break from the game when a car stopped nearby. A volley of bullets crossed the court; one struck Wilson in the head. Wilson barely survived the shooting, suffering brain damage. He remains hospitalized in Queens.
On Friday, Alexander Aguilar, 18, an alleged MS-13 gang member, was charged with felony assault in the shooting. Police said Aguilar and others mistook Batista and the group on the courts for members of the Bloods, an African-American gang. Wilson Batista Sr. emigrated from the Dominican Republic in 1993; his wife and children followed in 1999.
Batista credited God with saving his son's life and said he forgave Aguilar's family. He hopes his son can be transferred to Southside Hospital, where he works in housekeeping, in the next month or two.
"My son is about 50 percent better," he said, speaking in a mix of English and Spanish. "He is not talking now but he understands everything."
"We come from a country where basically everybody is MS-13," said one of Edgar's brothers, Ivan, referring to the same gang police say is responsible for his murder. "People would always want to fight him. The more fights, the more status you have."
It was largely because of that threat that Villalobos followed his brothers and other relatives to the United States. After the mother of his children moved to California, he stayed behind as his family raised the $8,000 or so needed to bring him north about three years ago.
Like his brothers, Villalobos, 28, made a living working low-wage jobs in restaurants. Much of his weekly pay of $300 or $350 from cooking at a Babylon cafe went to support his children. His two older children, about 7 and 5 years old, live with relatives in El Salvador; the 3-year-old lives in California with the his mother.
"They couldn't kill him for money. He didn't have much," said his brother Fredy Villalobos, 36.
After leaving work last Sunday, Villalobos went to a Bay Shore deli not far from his apartment. Three young men he met there later told detectives he claimed to be a member of the MS-13 - which the trio knew was untrue. After luring him into a car, they drove to a dark street littered with gang tags and hacked him to death, police allege. Several neighbors said they heard him screaming in Spanish for help.
Three men, Aguilar, Ortiz and Jose Gomez Amaya, have been charged in Villalobos' death.
"We didn't come to this country to kill each other. We came to survive because someone was going to kill us over there," Fredy said.
Dexter Acheampong's nickname, "Jollof" - a tomato-and-rice dish popular in his parents' West African homeland - reflected his love of food and his appreciation for the good life.
Born in Oklahoma City to parents who emigrated from Ghana, Acheampong, 24, spent much of his teenage years living in Los Angeles, his family said. His time there gave him a mellow attitude that distinguished him from his New York relatives.
"He picked up a lot of that surfer mentality," said a cousin, Eddie Osel, 28, of Queens. "He was a laid-back guy."
After graduating from high school in Michigan, where he lived with an aunt, he moved back to L.A. and briefly attended college. He moved to Medford in 2005 to live with an aunt, uncle and cousins, working for a time at a Hauppauge vitamin manufacturer.
"The first night he was here I could talk to him," said his cousin, Vanessa Smith, 16. "He listened and would give us advice tell us to stay on the right path and stuff."
Acheampong was shot to death May 26 on East Maple Street in Central Islip; his body was found slumped between a parked car and garage door, where he apparently ran for cover. Suffolk police said the man charged in his death, Edwin Ortiz, 19, an alleged MS-13 gang member, is also charged in the slaying of Villalobos. Ortiz told detectives Acheampong was targeted because he was black and therefore a potential Blood.
Acheampong's uncle, Ben Smith, 45, said he knew of one misdemeanor arrest since his nephew came to Long Island. Acheampong had several other run-ins with the law, online court records show; the disposition of the cases was unclear Saturday.