Three alleged MS-13 members accused in the Huntington Station stabbing of a 16-year-old boy earlier this month were charged in an indictment unsealed Tuesday in a Central Islip courtroom where a judge tripled their bail.
The defendants, Ramon Arevalo Lopez, 19, Oscar Canales Molina, 17, and Nobeli Montes Zuniga, 20, all of Huntington Station, appeared in First District Court in Central Islip Tuesday for their arraignments on second-degree assault charges unsealed in the indictment.
At a news conference afterward, Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said that despite the Jan. 9 attack inside a Huntington Station Burger King, MS-13 is “on the run” on Long Island thanks to pressure from federal and local authorities. But there are indications, Sini said, to suggest the gang is poised for a resurgence.
“There is intelligence that in 2019, MS-13 will make some effort to come back,” he said. The Jan. 9 stabbing gained national prominence when the White House sent out a tweet in an effort to tie it to the ongoing debate over illegal immigration.
In court appearances a day after the stabbing, District Court Judge Gaetan Lozito set the trio's bail at $35,000 cash or $75,000 bond. Tuesday, Judge Anthony Senft Jr. increased their bail $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond.
They each face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Arevalo Lopez stabbed the victim, Sini said, while Montes Zuniga drove the getaway car. Police found two knives on Canales Molina when he was apprehended.
The afternoon attack resulted from a perceived insult, Sini said.
“This assault seems to be motivated by the mere fact that the defendants seemed slighted in a Burger King,” Sini said.
At the time of the stabbing, Arevalo Lopez, Canales Molina, Montes Zuniga and the victim were classmates at Huntington High School, the district attorney said.
The high school is less than a mile from where the attack took place at about 3:30 p.m., not long after classes ended for the day. The Burger King, located just off New York Avenue and wedged against a strip mall featuring other fast food eateries and clothing stores, is a popular after-school hangout for Huntington students. Shortly after the stabbing, Suffolk police officers could be seen escorting several teenagers away from the restaurant single file.
Attorneys for the defendants said their clients were not members of the notorious gang accused of dozens of homicides on Long Island. Instead, they said, the trio was forced to defend themselves after a much larger group attacked them.
“My client and his friends are the victims,” said Donald Mates of Hauppauge, Montes Zuniga’s lawyer.
Some members of the larger group had been wearing black bandanas, which may have indicated they were gang members, said attorney Jason Bassett of Hauppauge, who is representing Arevalo Lopez.
Sini declined to comment when asked if the victim was a gang member but said it is clear those who attacked him were.
“In fact, they made admissions — they made admissions — to law enforcement that they were affiliated with MS-13,” Sini said “Out of their own mouths.”
Authorities have said the defendants entered the United States illegally and Arevalo Lopez and Canales Molina had been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement before they were released. All three defendants were in the Suffolk County Police Department’s gang database.
In a tweet after the stabbing, the White House sought to portray the assault as a dangerous consequence of criminals entering the U.S. illegally.
"We welcome immigrants who come here legally, but not illegal gang members," the White House tweeted Jan. 11 on its official account. "This week a HS student was stabbed by 3 MS-13 members. According to police, the attackers had entered the U.S. illegally, were picked up by DHS, but were released by judges."
Bassett released a statement Jan. 12 in response to the tweet, criticizing the White House.
"Certainly tweets from a White House with a tenuous relationship with the truth aren't proof of anything," Bassett said.