The parents of two Brentwood teens killed in 2016 — allegedly at the hands of MS-13 gang members — expressed joy their daughters’ memories were behind a fundraising effort that provided lifesaving surgery for two young children in El Salvador.
“For the legacy of our girls, this means a lot to us,” said Elizabeth Alvarado, mother of slain 15-year-old Nisa Mickens. “It keeps our family together because we have a purpose in this world.”
Alvarado was joined by her late daughter’s father, Rob Mickens, and Evelyn Rodriguez, mother of Kayla Cuevas, 16, at the Brentwood Public Library Thursday afternoon. The parents spoke in English with Spanish-speaker Geobanna Linares, the mother of 2-year-old Ricardo Adonay Murga. Interpreters enabled the parents to communicate with each other via videoconference.
The toddler, who had successful open-heart surgery on June 2, was with his mom and sister in El Salvador. Another child, Johana Elizabeth Reyes, also of El Salvador, had successful open-heart surgery on July 18. Their surgeries were paid for by the Brentwood Rotary’s Gift of Life Program, which had collected donations in the names of the two slain girls. The two surgeries cost $10,000 total, officials said.
A thankful Linares said her boy’s life was saved. He went from a child who was always in pain to being playful and energetic. Ricardo could be seen on video hopping from his mother’s lap to his sister’s, only stopping when he was fed a bottle.
"He was always crying, he was sad, he never smiled," Linares said. "You could see he was sick. But after the operation, there was a change. Now he plays, he smiles, he's very happy and playful."
She continued: "He's doing very well thanks to you, thanks to God. Everything has been a success."
At one point, exchanges between the three families brought the mothers in Brentwood to tears.
Evelyn Rodriguez said her daughter, Kayla, always loved helping children.
"Helping another child is this feeling you can't even put into words," Rodriguez said. "And just seeing these kids, their spunkiness, puts a big smile on my face."
The Brentwood teenagers were found beaten and stabbed in Brentwood in September 2016. Their bodies were discovered less than 24 hours apart. More than a half-dozen alleged members of the MS-13 street gang were indicted in March 2017 in their killings, as well as the slaying of a member of the gang.
Federal prosecutors said Cuevas was involved in a series of disputes with members and associates of MS-13, including disputes over social media. The gang members indicted in the girls' slayings were hunting for rival gang members to kill when they inadvertently came across Cuevas and Mickens, investigators said.
Officials with the Rotary Club said they hope to raise $50,000 to save the lives of more children in El Salvador in need of open-heart surgery.
"The memory of Kayla and Nisa will become a light, a beacon of hope for all those families who are praying that a miracle will help save their children," said Robbie Donno, founder of the Gift of Life Program.