This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Christine Chung, Scott Eidler and Michael O’Keeffe. It was written by Eidler.
Sorrow and solidarity over the murders of four young men found in a Central Islip park last week remained fresh in Easter Sunday services offered by Long Island’s Catholic bishop and the pastors and deacons in communities where the victims lived.
“God, please stop these acts of evil,” said Deacon Jay Alvarado of St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood. “Stop these atrocities to our communities and to our children.”
Suffolk County police have said they believed that members of a violent, MS-13 gang are likely connected to the Central Islip slayings. Last month, federal prosecutors charged more than half a dozen members in three Brentwood murders.
At St. John of God Roman Catholic Church in Central Islip, less than half a mile from the park where the four bodies were found, the Rev. Christopher Nowak asserted that the lessons of Easter were still relevant.
Nowak urged the congregation to look for signs of new life in the world, and said Easter is about dying and being reborn in Jesus Christ.
Nowak, speaking in the chapel — a bright, open room overflowing with people — said people are always striving to progress to a better life, even in the face of such violence.
“As people of faith, we have to believe,” he said. “We have to believe that our world and our lives are progressing and getting better.”
The victims were: Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport; Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue; Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood, and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida.
At his first Easter Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, Bishop John Barres said, “we are in solidarity this Easter morning with those families that lost loved ones in Central Islip last week because of this violence, and with our parish communities that reach out to them, with the comfort of the risen lord this Easter season.”
At St. Joseph the Worker in East Patchogue, where some of the victims’ families have worshipped, the Rev. Martin Curtin said members of the parish have gone to the homes of the families every day to pray. He offered a special prayer for the families of the victims.
Curtin called the homicides “an incredibly dark thing.”
They were “so young to die in that manner.” He said that Tigre and Llivicura’s funerals will be held in his church this week.
“Death doesn’t deprive a life of meaning just because it comes to an end, no matter how it ends,” Curtin said. “Justin and Jorge’s life was important and valuable because it was their life and no one else’s. It’s the life God gave them. And there’s a light that comes from their life in this darkness.”
Parishioners spoke of their fears in the wake of the murders.
Lourdes Marin, 54, a billing coordinator from Bellport, said she started crying during the special prayer for the families at St. Joseph the Worker.
“I’m a mother. I have four daughters. My husband and I tell them not to trust anybody, tell us where you’re going,” she said.
Her 17-year-old daughter, Brianna, is a junior at Bellport High School, where Llivicura was a student. “If you see these kids, you wouldn’t think this would happen to them,” Brianna said. “They were so quiet in school.”
Julio Villarman, 50, of Brentwood, said after the service at St. Anne’s that “the priest has been asking for peace . . . It’s very comforting, it’s a very good thing.” He added, “it’s also very important that the police can actually start fighting this gang problem that we have in this area.”
In Brentwood, St. Anne’s pastor, the Rev. Stanislaw Wadowski, urged his parishioners to reach out to newcomers in the community.
“Brentwood is growing,” he said. “We should have 20 more people coming to the church” each week. “We have violent people here among us . . . We shouldn’t have that. We should be all collaborating with the police. If you know something, say something.”
“Some people are really bad inside of their hearts,” he said. “The Lord can give us strength.”