Jorge Tigre was looking forward to a big party to celebrate his graduation from Bellport High School Thursday night, and his mother, Bertha Ullaguari, was happy to oblige.
She made plans to get plenty of food and a large tent to cram in dozens of loved ones.
Instead, she’ll spend Thursday as she has every day since April 13, mourning the 18-year-old son she described as a good student who dreamed of becoming a police officer. Tigre was one of four young men killed in a Central Islip park in April, allegedly at the hands of the violent street gang MS-13.
At the graduation ceremony Thursday night, school officials said they will observe a moment of silence in remembrance of Tigre and before the diplomas are handed out.
“The only thing he wanted was a party,” said Ullaguari, 43, of Bellport. “He didn’t think about buying clothes or anything. He’s a good kid. He never did anything bad.”
Ullaguari spoke through tears recently of her son’s plans for graduation day. Instead of preparing his party, she describes spending her days in crippling pain at the thought of her son never walking through the front door again.
“I still don’t understand to this day why they did this to him,” she said, looking at her home’s spacious backyard with a trampoline, an aboveground swimming pool, a rusted swing set hanging from a pair of tall trees and a deck perfect for grilling.
Ullaguari said Tigre sneaked out of his house Tuesday night, April 11, and never came home. Police have not announced any arrests in the slayings but have said they believe the killings are the work of MS-13 gang members.
Since the bodies were found, Suffolk County police officials said officers have made over 200 arrests of MS-13 gang members. However, none of those arrests were for the slayings of Jorge Tigre or the other three victims, Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue, Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood, and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida. Two months later, the case remains unsolved. Police Commissioner Timothy Sini has given no update on the progress of the case, citing an active investigation.
Meanwhile, Ullaguari — whose family hails from Ecuador — finds herself cast in a role she never wanted: the embodiment of the toll of gang warfare. She cries when she sees Tigre in her dreams, and she says she breaks down in tears when she gets home from working a shift at a cookie factory in Shirley, where her co-workers rally around her.
“They tell me I have to be strong . . . that I have to be tough,” Ullaguari said. “But no matter how tough or how strong you want to be, you can’t. It [the pain] just doesn’t pass.”
Ullaguari vividly remembers her last day with her son. On that Tuesday afternoon, Ullaguari had enlisted Tigre’s help to go grocery shopping for beans, fish and milk — ingredients needed to make a traditional Ecuadorean soup, Fanesca, to be consumed on Good Friday during Holy Week.
The two got home at 8 p.m. and Ullaguari soon ordered her children to bed. By 9 p.m., Ullaguari had already gone to bed, but what she didn’t know was Tigre had plans to sneak out to meet up with friends.
Wednesday morning, Ullaguari noticed her son was missing but went to work, thinking he was safe. Later in the day, Ullaguari’s brother called her to tell her he couldn’t reach Tigre. The pair had arranged to meet and he had been calling and texting but no answer.
Ullaguari didn’t panic. She gave it a few more hours but became troubled when she got home at 4:30 p.m. and there was still no sign of the teen. By now, her calls and messages had also gone unanswered, so she called the Suffolk County Police Department.
They arrived at her home a short time later and said he was not in their custody and they didn’t know where he was.
That’s when she grabbed her daughter, Monica, and the pair set out to find Tigre, thinking he was at work and that his phone battery had died. Or worse, that he was in a hospital, injured and unable to talk.
Ullaguari said she and her daughter were about to hop on Route 27, when a strange number called Monica’s cell. The woman on the other end said Tigre and three others were dead in the park.
“Please I need to see my brother,” Monica begged the stranger.
“Go to the police and have them help you,” she answered.
“The police don’t know either. The police were looking for the bodies and they couldn’t find them either,” Monica said.
The conversation was soon over, and they went back home. Hours later, the police found Tigre’s body, along with the others. The next morning, Ullaguari had been notified by authorities that her son was dead and said officials were blaming MS-13 for the killings.
The killings of the four young men — along with the slayings of four other young people in Brentwood last year — captured national attention, with President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions declaring a war on MS-13.
In May, weeks following the Central Islip killings, Sini testified before Congress in Washington, saying the gang was responsible for 27 killings in Suffolk County since 2013. And on Tuesday, Sini said he’s currently working with the State Department to take a trip down to El Salvador, to talk with law enforcement officials there and share information.
“Obviously, this is an unspeakable tragedy for all those who cared for these boys and our commitment to them is we’re going to solve these murders,” Sini said. “Those who are responsible will be taken off the streets and put into prison.”
Meanwhile, Ullaguari and her remaining children — Angel, William, Monica, Evelyn and Jason — only want to find those responsible for Tigre’s absence.
“I want them to find the ones who did this because I want justice,” she said. “He was so young and there are so many young men who are going through this. Not just my boy. ”