Families of MS-13 victims greeted President Donald Trump’s Long Island visit Friday afternoon with a mix of hope and heartache.
Trump’s condemnation of the murderous transnational gang and his vow to eradicate it from communities across the United States resonated deeply with those mourning the loss of loved ones.
Evelyn Rodriguez of Brentwood, whose teenage daughter was brutally slain last September by MS-13 members, said she and her husband, Freddy Cuevas, attended the speech at the invitation of the White House.
The parents were touched that Trump — speaking at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood — mentioned 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas and her close friend Nisa Mickens, 15, saying the gang “butchered those little girls.”
“I appreciate that . . . he’s acknowledging the families, that we did lose a loved one, and he’s going to do something about it,” said Rodriguez, 49.
“What he was saying was what we’ve been asking for — more resources, for him to support our Suffolk PD,” the mother said. “We need change here in our community.”
Rodriguez said she became emotional as Trump described in graphic language the killing methods of the gang, including slashing them with machetes.
“It was tough, because I know what happened to my daughter and to Nisa,” Rodriguez said. “So it hit right back home. But people have to realize: These individuals, this is how they strike. It’s ruthless. It’s brutal.”
In his speech, Trump talked of “liberating” Long Island communities like Brentwood and Central Islip, promising to hunt down, jail and deport gang members.
That promise resonated strongly with Freddy Cuevas, who has become an outspoken advocate for victims of gang violence.
“Whatever it takes to just annihilate them and get them all out,” he said. “‘Liberate’ in the sense we need to capture back our community.”
Robert Mickens, still mourning his daughter, also expressed support for the president and felt protesters upset about Trump’s stances on immigration and health care missed the point.
To Mickens, it’s not about politics, it was about stopping MS-13 and saving lives.
“This is not just a small gang out there that the police can get rid of in one shot,” the Brentwood father said. “They are across the whole United States. And it’s going to be an ongoing problem if he doesn’t step up and do what he says he’s going to do.”
Since January 2016, 17 slayings have been attributed to MS-13 in Suffolk County alone, authorities said. Four of those killings happened in April when police say two women lured the victims to a park in Central Islip, where waiting gang members beat them with bats and hacked them with machetes.
“They are savages,” said Francis Villalobos, 41, of Pompano Beach, Florida, whose son Jefferson, 20, was among the victims. “They don’t have hearts. They’re just death machines.”
Villalobos was heartened by Trump’s visit, as was Marcelo Llivicura of Patchogue, whose son Justin, 16, was also killed in the attack.
Llivicura said he spends his days missing his son and fearing that his daughters could one day suffer the same fate.
The answer, he says, is stiffer penalties.
“I hope they get tough with the laws against these gangs,” he said, echoing another promise by Trump. “These criminals, they are running around taking innocent lives from people who don’t cause any problems. It’s not just good for us, it’s good for everyone.”