A group of concerned residents tried to quell the fear that continues to grip the Brentwood community by patrolling the streets with the Guardian Angels on Thursday.
Deborah Kirnon, 50 and Vonetta Hill, 43, were among several people who contacted the Guardian Angels with desperate pleas to have the New York City-based nonprofit initiate a chapter in the Suffolk County hamlet where two teen girls, Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15, were found beaten to death last week.
Motorists and pedestrians quickly recognized the group’s iconic red berets and matching jackets, emblazoned with the white wings logo, as they walked along a commercial corridor at Wicks Road and Suffolk Avenue. Fliers were handed out to passers-by and shop workers to post in their windows in an effort to recruit the community to join their cause.
Tatiana Rodriguez, 17, donning an Angels T-shirt, cried as she walked with the group. She graduated from Brentwood High School’s Ross Center last year and was friends with both Cuevas and Mickens. The girls all played basketball together.
“It’s just crazy knowing that slowly, all your friends are dying,” Rodriguez said. “We’re out here doing this for them. Everyone is scared to walk around. No one wants to hang around their own block where they live. We can’t live this way.”
The Guardian Angels have Long Island chapters in Hempstead, Huntington Station, Riverhead, Greenport and Hampton Bays, said Benjamin Garcia, a patrol director who has been with the group since 1986.
“It’s very tragic, what’s happening here,” Garcia said of the recent killings. “This is about getting people together who love this community who want to make a difference.”
Hill said she moved from Brentwood to Bay Shore in 2006 so her children could get out of the school district because of the gang violence. She said she wanted to join the Angels in memory of her nephew, Marcus Bohannon, 27, who was gunned down over Labor Day weekend in Central Islip.
“First Marcus, then these girls. I said, ‘That’s just too much,’ ” Hill said. “I think having us as Guardian Angels around will help people feel safer. I believe it’ll be a deterrent for gangs when they see us around. We just want to make our kids feel safe.”
Later in the afternoon, crowds gathered for a second day at a funeral home on Suffolk Avenue in Brentwood for Cuevas’ wake. Her funeral is set for Friday at 10:45 a.m. at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood.
Bianca Ayala, 42, a catering hall employee from Brentwood, brought her daughter Jennifer Krystal, 17, who graduated from Brentwood High School in June, to the viewing to pay their respects. The mother and daughter didn’t know Cuevas personally, but came to support a family in their time of grief. They say the murders have them on edge.
“I call my daughter all the time during the day and ask, “Where are you? Are you OK?,” Ayala said. “I can’t eat I’m so worried. The terrorism in the city and New Jersey was bad but this happening here, this is terrorism, too.”
Down the road from the funeral home, Corey Mitchell, 37, of Brentwood, noticed the Angels and stopped to take a flier and express his interest in joining.
“I appreciate you doing something positive for our community,” he told the group.
Of Mitchell’s five children, two of them — in grades 3 and 8 — attend Brentwood schools.
“My children are terrified,” Mitchell said. “They stayed home from school one day last week because they were so scared. I want to be a part of this because we need some positive change here. It can’t do nothing but help.”
Members of the Long Island Punisherz Ryders, a motorcycle club, visited the funeral home for Cuevas’ wake to show solidarity in the community and “to show the family they’re not by themselves,” said Noel Lopez, 49, of Brentwood, who works for Con Edison in New York City.
Lopez and fellow rider Joe Lombardi, 40, a longtime Brentwood resident who now lives in Coram, lowered and shook their heads as they lamented on the happenings in the hamlet over the past week.
“It’s insane it’s crazy,” Lopez said of the killings. “I’ve lived here 22 years and it’s never gotten to this level. High school girls getting murdered, then they’re finding bodies? Who know how many bodies they’ll find. The police in Suffolk fell asleep or something.”
“Everyone has to come together as a community and do something about it,” Lopez said. “The police need to do what they need to do to handle it. If they can’t do it, bring the feds in. We have young kids that are dying. They need to do something.”