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Brentwood school officials stress safety after MS-13 arrests

District says school records show three of five suspects arrested this week were currently enrolled; they were trying to validate a fourth.

On Thursday, Dec.7, 2017, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini announced that another MS-13 plot had been stopped by Suffolk County police in Brentwood. The five suspects, four of whom are Brentwood High School students, are being charged with second-degree conspiracy after they attempted to abduct a 16-year-old boy, which was witnessed by undercover Suffolk police detectives.  (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

Brentwood school officials have alerted parents to the recent arrests of three alleged MS-13 gang members and two associates, including local high school students, with assurances that their children’s safety is the “number-one priority,” officials said in a districtwide robo-call.

That communication came just hours after Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini announced Thursday that Suffolk police had thwarted an MS-13 plot to abduct a 16-year-old boy near Brentwood High School’s Ross Center on Wednesday.

Police have said that four of the suspects — three males and one female — are students at Brentwood High.

Brentwood school officials said student records showed three of those four students were currently enrolled. They were trying to validate records of a fourth.

Superintendent Richard Loeschner, in the call, said the district’s security staff had worked closely with police before the arrests.

“A van carrying five young people, three of whom were Brentwood students, attempted to lure another student into the vehicle,” Loeschner said in the call. “Their efforts were prevented because the Suffolk County Police Department was working closely with our own security staff, who alerted them about a suspicious van in the area.”

Sini, in his announcement, said that after three incidents Tuesday in which the group harassed three Latino youths, plainclothes detectives flooded the area of First Street and Third Avenue in Brentwood.

At about 2 p.m. Wednesday, two plainclothes detectives from Criminal Intelligence saw a van with five people inside approach a 16-year-old boy and were “attempting to coerce” the young man in the van, Sini said.

The detectives intervened immediately after they realized the individuals matched the description of the previous incidents. Sini had said that the five suspects were attempting — intending — to abduct that teenager and kill him to elevate their status in the MS-13 gang by carrying out the slaying.

Police identified those arrested as: Jorge Bermudez Cedillos, 18, a ninth-grader and an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador; Lilliana Villanueva, 17, a ninth-grader and an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador; Oscar Fuentes, 18, an 11th-grader and unaccompanied minor from El Salvador; Vidal Contrera-Ortiz, 18, an 11th-grader who is in the United States illegally and is originally from El Salvador; and Miguel Rivera, 20, in the country illegally from El Salvador.

The defendants pleaded not guilty at arraignments Thursday afternoon. Each was ordered held on $250,000 cash bail.

Loeschner said the students will be subjected to disciplinary measures by the school district.

“Please know that it is our number-one priority to keep your sons and daughters safe in school, as well as when they travel to and from school,” he said in the robo-call.

Gang violence has put the community in the national spotlight, drawing the attention of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Authorities have linked 11 killings in Brentwood and Central Islip in the past 15 months to MS-13. That includes the deaths in September 2016 of Brentwood High students Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, who were found brutally beaten and stabbed in Brentwood.

Brentwood High School was among 10 schools across Long Island named in a controversial plan by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to install state troopers in schools. District officials said in September, the day after Cuomo’s announcement, that troopers were there, but that no plan was in place for what they would do.

Friday, a district spokesman said state troopers currently are not posted in the high school and the issue “is still unresolved with the district.”

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