One was outgoing, the other quiet, but Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens became inseparable friends — a relationship forged on a basketball court.
The Brentwood teenagers both set goals of rising above the drugs and gangs plaguing their community, friends and family said. Mickens aspired to be a veterinarian or nurse; Cuevas wanted to work in law enforcement.
Those dreams were shattered this week when the high school juniors were killed in what a Suffolk police official called a “brutal attack.” No arrests have been made, no motive revealed.
Mickens, 15, and Cuevas, 16, had families that were “supportive and involved,” said Brentwood East Middle School Principal Barry Mohammed, an assistant principal when the girls attended.
“Kayla, she was a very outgoing student. Energetic, charismatic, full of leadership qualities,” Mohammed said Thursday. “She loved to play basketball and she loved to be among her friends.”
“Nisa was very quiet, had a calm demeanor. She was very loving,” the principal said. “She was always there to help and support others.”
Evelyn Cuevas, Kayla’s mother, sobbed during a visit to the scene of her daughter’s slaying, where a makeshift memorial has blossomed with flowers and balloons.
“She was a good kid — big heart,” Cuevas said.
Mickens’ mother, Elizabeth Alvarado, said her daughter and Cuevas were friends for years, playing in a traveling basketball league together.
“If you see Nisa, you see Kayla,” she said, adding that each wore “best friend” chains. “Those girls mean everything to us. We saw them grow up.”
Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who also was an assistant principal at the middle school, recalled having breakfast in her office with Cuevas and her mother. They talked about their lives and what the future could hold.
“Kayla was spunky and rambunctious,” Martinez said. “She confided in me a lot. She would come to my office after school and we would just talk and watch cartoons on TV or the news. She always made me laugh.”
Eliza Evans, Mickens’ older sister, said Cuevas and Mickens bonded over basketball. They’d play together for hours, she said, often at the hoop in front of Mickens’ house.
Mohammed said the girls were on the middle school basketball team and involved in community sports organizations. They were often seen riding bicycles together around the community, he said.
Mickens’ love of animals — particularly her pit bull Max — was indicative of her kind nature and fueled her career aspirations, said a cousin, Crystal Bryson, 26, of Brentwood.
“She loved that dog so much,” Bryson said. “Max has been waiting by the door for her, waiting for her to come home. He doesn’t understand what’s happened yet.”
Mickens also enjoyed listening to hip-hop and R&B, and one of her favorite artists was rapper Drake, the cousin said.
“She loved to be around her family, and I know all her little cousins are missing her,” Bryson said.
Liz Cordero of Brentwood, whose son was a close friend of Cuevas, said the girl was a “phenomenal” basketball player.
“She was an excellent athlete,” Cordero said. “She was a spitfire. She would not back down from any situation.”
Cordero said Cuevas wanted to work in law enforcement to help protect and uplift her neighborhood.
“The irony is here’s someone who had a vision — she wanted to do something with her life,” she said. “But this community, it’s so stifling. Young people all the time say they can’t wait to get out of here.”
Mickens, who would have turned 16 on Wednesday, “loved sneakers,” said her grandfather, Robert Mickens. He said he planned to buy her a pair for her birthday.
Both girls attended Brentwood High School’s Ross Center. Had they graduated and moved on, Mohammed believes they would have been successful.
“Their hearts were in the right places,” he said.
With Nicole Fuller