Suffolk law enforcement officials said the three males charged in connection with the stabbing of a Huntington High School student outside a fast-food restaurant Wednesday afternoon are members of the MS-13 street gang — though it is not clear if the attack was gang-related.
Ramon Arevalo Lopez, 19; Oscar Canales Molina, 17; and Nobeli Montes Zuniga, 20, all of Huntington Station, pleaded not guilty Thursday to a charge of second-degree assault in Central Islip. District Court Judge Gaetan Lozito ordered them held on bail of $35,000 cash or $75,000 bond.
Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said a group of students from the high school was eating at a Burger King on New York Avenue not far from the school about 3:30 p.m. when they noticed six young men whom they recognized from school, "staring at them in a menacing way."
Sini said all three of those arrested had attended Huntington High School.
The students left and the other group chased them into a rear parking lot and attacked them with bats and knives, Sini said. Arevalo Lopez stabbed one 16-year-old boy in the back and another boy was injured, he said. Both were treated for non-life threatening injuries.
Sini said the attackers fled in a black 2007 Toyota with a large spoiler. When officers stopped the car shortly afterward, the three had blood on their clothes and hands.
Arevalo Lopez "made admissions" to committing the stabbing, and the others also made incriminating statements, he said.
Two knives were taken from Canales Molina, including a small one that appeared to be covered in blood, which was found in his shoe, the Suffolk District Attorney's Office said in a release.
Each of the three suspects had entered the country illegally, Sini said., and were in the Suffolk Police Department's database of likely gang members.
Canales Molina and Montes Zuniga's attorneys could not be reached for comment.
Arevalo Lopez's attorney, Jason Bassett of Hauppauge, said his client is no gang member.
"By all accounts he's a gentle and unassuming young man who's not a MS-13 member," Bassett said. "He's an innocent young man. We're going to fight these charges vigorously."
Bassett said the fight had nothing to do with the gang.
"While it's not clear what the fight was about, it is clear that the defendants are all members of the MS-13 gang," Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. As a result of the attack and concerns about possible retaliation, Hart said officers were stationed at the high school all day Thursday at the school district's request.
Despite the daytime attack in a busy shopping area, Sini and Hart said they have made great strides in fighting MS-13. Gang incidents are down significantly from 2015 and 2016, Sini said.
The arrests come after dozens of residents turned out Tuesday to question Suffolk police officials about what role a school resource officer played in the deportation of a Huntington High student.
The crowd of more than 50 people at the monthly community meeting at the Second Precinct in Huntington aired concerns about the handling of the student. The deportation came to light in a New York Times/ProPublica article that The New York Times Magazine posted online in late December.
The student was arrested in June 2017 by federal immigration officials after he was questioned by the school resource officer — who has since been reassigned to another school — and the principal about what they believed to be his gang activities, according to the account. Identified only as "Alex," the boy was sent back to his native Honduras, the article said.
The police department "is satisfied that the proper procedures were followed," a public information officer said in an email. The Huntington School District is reviewing its relationship with the department.
— With Joan Gralla and Ellen Yan