One year after the beating deaths of two teenagers shook the Brentwood community, friends and family gathered to light candles and recall the loss of the two best friends in what authorities say were senseless gang-related murders.
About 75 people gathered Wednesday night near Ray Court, where the body of Nisa Mickens, 15, was found, 24 hours after that of Kayla Cuevas, 16, was uncovered nearby. Both girls, police say, had been brutally assaulted by MS-13 gang members who went hunting for rival gang members and happened to encounter the two.
For Robert Mickens, the father of Nisa, the place where his daughter was discovered is hallowed ground. That night, he recalled, he went to pick up his daughter at Cuevas’ house and when he couldn’t find her, drove around until he saw detectives at a crime scene. There, his world fell apart when he realized the clothes police said were worn by the victim matched those his daughter had on that night.
“When somebody takes it upon themselves to do God’s job, it hurts . . . And to basically have a peer do this to her, to Kayla to the other four gentlemen, it’s not right,” Mickens said, referring to victims of gang violence that terrorized the community last year.
A memorial was placed on a patch of grass on the sidewalk with votive candles surrounding floral arrangements, balloons and a poster board with Nisa Mickens’ face on it along with signatures.
Evelyn Rodriguez, Cuevas’ mother, sobbed gently, wearing a T-shirt with her daughter’s photo on it. She said there will be a separate memorial for her daughter Thursday to mark the day her remains were found.
“I’m reliving every second,” she said in an emotion-choked voice. “When I last saw her, when I said goodbye to her. You just relive it.”
“It means everything [to be here],” she said of the vigil. “It shows respect for the girls. It shows support to the families and it lets them know that they’re standing by. And making sure that this is never ever forgotten. To make sure that our street is safe. It’s making sure that everyone is doing their job. And making sure that these two girls are never ever forgotten.”
Investigators said Cuevas was “involved in a series of disputes” in person and over social media with MS-13 members and associates in the months before the killings, according to federal prosecutors. More than a half-dozen members of the MS-13 street gang “whose primary mission is murder” were indicted in March in the girls’ death and that of a fellow gang member.
Also Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in an announcement attended by Rodriguez, said ten state troopers will immediately be deployed to 10 Suffolk schools for gang prevention. Cuomo said the officers would educate teachers and students on early signs of gang activity.