Crippled by grief since the death Friday of her friend and fellow Brentwood anti-gang activist Evelyn Rodriguez, Elizabeth Alvarado vowed Wednesday to continue the work they began after MS-13 members allegedly killed their daughters in 2016.
“Even though Evelyn is not here, I’m still going to fight for justice,” Alvarado said. “We have to keep fighting. That is the only way you get results in this life.”
Her daughter, Nisa Mickens, 15, and Rodriguez's daughter, Kayla Cuevas, 16, were Brentwood High School students two years ago when, according to Suffolk police and federal prosecutors, members of the notoriously violent gang attacked them with bats and machetes.
The discovery of Nisa's and Kayla's bodies near Ray Court in Brentwood transformed two mothers into activists fiercely determined to protect other children.
The anguish over their daughters' deaths never ebbed and Alvarado said she was struggling as the anniversary of the killings approached. Her emotional pain has been overwhelming since Friday, when an SUV struck and killed Rodriguez near a sidewalk memorial for Kayla on Ray Court — exactly two years after the teenager's body was discovered a few yards away.
“My soul is broken," Alvarado said, "but my heart is strong as hell and that is how I will see this through.”
A wake for Rodriguez, 50, will be held Thursday at Michael J. Grant Funeral Home in Brentwood, and several hundred mourners, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), are expected to attend her funeral Friday at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood. Graveside services will follow at Queen of All Saints Cemetery in Central Islip.
The deaths of Rodriguez and her daughter two years apart cast Brentwood into the national conversation on gang violence and efforts to end it, or at least provide safe detours for those children and teenagers most susceptible to the lure of gang life.
Among those who stepped up and got involved were Rodriguez and Alvarado. They teamed up after their daughters' deaths to push government officials at all levels to fund anti-gang and after-school programs in Brentwood, Central Islip and other at-riskSuffolk communities.
Alvarado and her husband, Rob Mickens, along with Rodriguez and Kayla’s father, Freddy Cuevas, watched from the balcony as White House guests at President Donald Trump’s January State of the Union address. They also met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he visited Long Island in April 2017.
Their efforts have made a difference, Alvarado said.
“Brentwood feels safer,” she said. “We did what we had to do to save our children.”
Alvarado intends to keep working with the Brentwood Rotary’s Gift of Life Program, with which she and Rodriguez raised money in the names of Kayla and Nisa to provide life-saving open-heart surgeries for two young children from El Salvador earlier this year. Two more children are scheduled to undergo operations funded by the program soon, Alvarado said.
“The fight Evelyn was trying to do will go on,” she said.