Nassau County police have uncovered the remains of another body in the Massapequa Preserve that they believe was buried there more than two years ago by MS-13 gang members.
Detectives unearthed the badly decomposed body from a shallow grave about 4 p.m. Friday about 100 to 150 feet from where an alleged victim of the gang was discovered in March 2017, Nassau Police Homicide Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick said during a news conference at the preserve Saturday.
Police said the body has not been formally identified, but they believe they know who it is: one of about a dozen people murdered in Nassau County by MS-13 members sometime in 2016 and 2017. The remains have deteriorated over two years and will be tested with DNA to confirm the identity.
Authorities have returned to the preserve more than a dozen times searching for remains, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. Detectives have dug extensively twice searching for clues and found an indentation in the ground that was pointed to by K-9 units.
“Two detectives raked about an acre of land looking for signs the ground may have been disturbed and someone might be buried here,” Fitzpatrick said.
The body was discovered near where they found the remains of Julio Cesar Espantzay, 18, of Hempstead, in March 2017, police said. Authorities have said Espantzay was lured into the 432-acre park with promises of sex and drugs, then attacked with machetes and shot before being buried in the preserve that January.
Five reputed Long Island MS-13 gang members have been charged with murder in his death, the Nassau district attorney's office said Saturday. Their cases remain open.
During the investigation, police were led to believe that a second body may have been buried in the preserve, Fitzpatrick said. Police had to fight rising groundwater underground that led to decomposition.
Multiple agencies worked on the case, including the federal Homeland Security Investigations and Drug Enforcement Administration. In November, authorities brought a digger into the woods, as well as a State Police K-9 unit cross-trained to detect narcotics and cadavers, but found no remains.
On Friday, police officers and homicide detectives streamed into the heavily wooded preserve, cordoned off at Ocean Avenue near Merrick Road. The sound of trees being cut could be heard in the evening, not far from the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail and the preserve's largest body of water, Massapequa Lake. Emergency service units, Seventh Precinct officers and homicide investigators remained into the night.
Officials on Saturday spoke in front of the sprawling lake, the warming sun sparkling off the placid water. Cyclists and walkers had to divert their course by the lake, which was blocked off by police. Police said the body was found about a mile down the path, a few hundred yards into the woods.
Police made 335 MS-13 arrests during the investigation, Ryder said. In 2016, of the 23 homicides recorded in Nassau County, two were committed by MS-13, Ryder said. In 2017, six of the county’s 15 homicides were tied to MS-13.
Nassau recorded three MS-13 homicides in 2018, of the county’s 16 homicides. Two of those victims, who were found in shallow graves, went missing in 2016, Ryder said.
“We believe it was a gang issue in 2016,” Ryder said. “This war, if you will, that took place in 2016 and '17, we recovered close to 11 victims, all or most buried in shallow graves in Nassau County. We believe at this time we’ve recovered all the victims as part of our investigation.”
“We want people in Massapequa and Nassau County to know our parks are safe and open for business,” Ryder said.
Police said they believe several people already in custody on separate crimes are responsible for killing the person discovered Friday. Charges await the coroner's confirmation of the victim's identity. Several other people involved are still at large, they said.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran thanked Nassau police in addition to HSI and DEA for assisting with the investigation.
“I have to give a special thanks to our homicide squad,” Curran said. “They’re relentless and they come back and come back until they find what they’re looking for. We are working to make sure our communities are as safe as they can possibly be.”
"We're here on a beautiful day on a holiday weekend for yet another gruesome discovery," said Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas. She added that authorities have been working hard so that "families can receive closure, that all victims will be identified and all perpetrators will be identified, arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
She added, "We will not tolerate this in Nassau County."
With Ellen Yan