Elizabeth Saquiray never met Jorge Tigre, whose mutilated body was one of four found in a Central Islip park this week in what police believe was a gang-related massacre.
But she spent Friday night and Saturday morning cooking Ecuadorean roast pork and rice to donate to Tigre’s family for a food sale to raise money for the 18-year-old’s funeral.
“Imagine it was your own child who leaves home and never comes back,” Saquiray, 46, said in Spanish after she and her husband carried big foil pans of food and cases of canned soda into the backyard of the Tigre family’s Bellport home. “This is a struggle for them, and we need to share what we have.”
Like others, Saquiray found out about the fundraiser through a Facebook posting. Word spread quickly, especially through the South Shore’s tightly knit Ecuadorean community. A steady stream of people filed into the yard, most coming to buy food, or drop off a check or cash.
Suffolk County police and the FBI have launched a joint investigation into the Wednesday slayings, which Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said likely “is the work of MS-13,” a transnational street gang notorious for its brutality.
Police identified the victims as Tigre, Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue, Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood, and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida.
Tigre was born near the southern Ecuadorean mountain city of Cuenca. Most Long Island Ecuadoreans hail from Cuenca and nearby towns and villages, immigrants arriving at the fundraiser said. The parents of the U.S.-born Llivicura also were from that area. Lopez Banegas and Villalobos were Honduran immigrants.
“Ecuadoreans always stay united when something bad happens to each other,” said Saquiray’s husband, Miguel Lituma, 46, who several years ago worked in construction with Tigre’s father but hadn’t seen him since.
The couple live a few miles from Bellport, in Patchogue. Their 14-year-old son attends Patchogue-Medford High School.
They always thought the school and the Patchogue area were safe. They knew there was gang violence in Brentwood and Central Islip. But now they are confronted with the killings of two teenagers who lived near them and their son.
“Before, we thought, ‘it’s over there,’ ” Saquiray said. “Now it’s here. And we’re afraid something will happen to him here.”
Ramiro Llivicura traveled from his home in Medford on Saturday to lay red and white daisies on the spot in the park where his nephew Justin was killed. The gate in the chain-link fence was padlocked, so Llivicura placed the daisies near other flowers in the fence.
“This is a reminder that, wherever he is right now, we won’t forget him,” Llivicura said.
Justin Llivicura’s family are parishioners at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in East Patchogue, where the Rev. Martin Curtin said he planned to tell congregants at the special Easter vigil Mass Saturday night that Justin in his short life had a profound impact on others. Alluding to the Catholic belief in eternal life, Curtin said “it doesn’t end here. Darkness is not the last word. It never is.”
The Rev. Anthony Iaconis of St. Peter the Apostle Church in Islip Terrace said some members of his parish — which includes Central Islip — have come to him with concerns about the recent violence. Iaconis said that, in his Good Friday homily, he reminded his congregation about the fragility of life so close to home.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Saturday that even before the quadruple slayings he had asked the White House to get President Donald Trump to visit families victimized by MS-13.
King said he plans to call the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Monday to find out what he can do as a congressman to help combat Suffolk’s gang violence.
“The thought of what they could have gone through or how their bodies were mutilated, it’s horrible,” King said. “What about the kids that could have this happen to them tomorrow or next week?”
Authorities are offering a $25,000 “fast cash reward,” to be paid within three days, for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers. The FBI has asked anyone with information to call the agency at 631-501-8600.
With John Asbury