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MS-13 members lured teen to preserve to kill him, police say

Jose Lopez, center, leaves Nassau Police headquarters in

Jose Lopez, center, leaves Nassau Police headquarters in Mineola on Friday. Credit: Newsday

A high school student whose remains were found in the Roosevelt Preserve last month was targeted by gang members who police said lured him into the woods under false pretenses then killed him with machetes.

Josue Amaya Leonor, 19, of Roosevelt, became an MS-13 enemy after the high school student posted on social media pictures of himself and his new friends, who the gang considered rivals.

“Josue was named as an enemy of MS-13, and now he’s marked for death,” Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Homicide Squad, said Friday at a news conference at police headquarters in Mineola.

Police said Leonor went into the woods with Jose Daniel Lopez and several other people, believing he was going to hang out and smoke marijuana with them.

“And, when he went in there, little did he know, there were four other people waiting for him with machetes to hack him up,” Fitzpatrick said.

Leonor was reported missing Sept. 16, 2016. His remains, described by a law enforcement source as bone fragments, were found May 30 in a wooded area of the preserve.

On Thursday, police arrested Lopez, 19, of Howard Avenue in Roosevelt, and charged him with one count of second-degree murder.

Lopez pleaded not guilty on Friday at his arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead.

Jared Rosenblatt, deputy chief of the Nassau County district attorney’s Major Offense Bureau, told the presiding judge that Lopez, along with others, struck Leonor “multiple times” with a machete, which is a large, heavy knife used for cutting underbrush.

An attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, which represented Lopez, asked District Court Judge William Hohauser to set “some” bail. The judge, however, agreed with Rosenblatt and ordered Lopez jailed while he awaits trial.

MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, has been responsible for a wave of killings on Long Island. The brutal nature of the killings — by attackers armed with machetes and baseball bats — have drawn the attention of President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Fitzpatrick said his officers, working with FBI and Homeland Security agents, have identified “people of interest” in connection with Leonor’s death. Some of them, he said, are behind bars.

The arrest of Lopez, Fitzpatrick said, came as a result of local and federal law enforcement agencies that are “aggressively” working to crush MS-13.

“It’s a very close-knit community and a lot of them won’t talk to us at times,” Fitzpatrick said. “But with this added pressure, now it’s going to open up avenues that we didn’t have previously.”

Claudia Erazo, Leonor’s sister, told Newsday in October that not long before his disappearance, her brother said he felt threatened at school. But she said her brother — also known as Joshua Aguilar — didn’t have enemies and didn’t mention gangs to her.

Leonor had been friends with schoolmates Angel Soler, 16, of Roosevelt, and Kerin Pineda, 20, of Freeport, according to their families.

Soler and Pineda — whose bodies were found in October — also are also believed by police to be victims of MS-13.

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