Joel Nieves was 10 years old when he stood in Suffolk County Court to ask a judge to give the maximum sentence to his father's killers - two alleged members of the Bloods gang who were convicted in the October 2001, killing of 29-year-old Jose Nieves.
"I can't see my father," he said in October 2003, his words almost obscured by his tears before the two were sentenced for the gang-related killing. "They should be locked up forever. That's all I have to say."
Now Nieves, 16, is fighting for his own life.
Police are investigating whether he, too, was the victim of gang violence when he was shot five times in the back and critically wounded in Bay Shore as he walked home from night classes at Brentwood High School on Wednesday.
Nieves was shot at about 10:30 p.m. by up to three young men in hoodies who Suffolk Police Third Squad Det. Lt. Matt Sullivan said walked up behind him at Illinois and Nebraska avenues and, "without anything being said, fired five or six rounds at him" at close range.
Police have no motive and have made no arrests yet.
Nieves was listed in critical condition at a hospital. His relatives could not be reached for comment.
The shooting - the latest case of string of deadly violence in Bay Shore, Central Islip and Brentwood - comes just over a week after police launched a 10-point plan designed to curb escalating violence in the three communities, which have seen as many as 11 homicides since May.
Some of the crimes have been blamed by both residents and officials on escalating gang violence. Legislators have pleaded with county and federal lawmakers to bring more resources to the area to combat the gang activity.
"We are a community in crisis," said state Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood), who helped organize a packed forum on the issue last week where community leaders called for federal help.
Thursday, blood from the shooting still stained the street as friends of the youth wished him a speedy recovery.
"They were pretty peaceful kids," said Nick Herbst, 18, a fellow senior at Brentwood High school, speaking of Joel and his brother, Noel. "We just hung out, played basketball."
The victim, who lives in Bay Shore, took night classes in addition to attending school during the day so that he could graduate early, Herbst said. He also plays basketball at Brentwood Youth Activities.
Residents say the violence has hit a new high. In February alone, four cases of violence in Brentwood and Central Islip claimed the lives of five people.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer said the 10-point plan, which includes an infusion of elite anti-gang officers and more street patrols, needs time to work and may not fully stop the violence. "Unfortunately, in spite of all our efforts, these incidents will occur," he said. "But that doesn't mean that the police department and the 10-point plan are not going to be effective. Give it a little time."
Dormer, who rebuts claims by Ramos and other leaders that there is a critical shortage of officers on the streets, said there are 28 more officers in the Third Precinct than there were before County Executive Steve Levy came into office.
He said Levy, who called the violence "unacceptable," has agreed to hire an additional 70 officers for the force this year.
But Suffolk Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) said more needs to be done to stem what appears to be escalating gang friction.
"There's a gang war going on here," he said.
Sergio Argueta, executive director of Hempstead-based Struggling to Reunite Our New Generation, said a better response is needed to reduce the violence. "It's sad that youth continue to pass away and I have yet to hear of an effective and collective plan to address these issues," he said.
With Sophia Chang, Reid J. Epstein and John Valenti
Victims of violence
Feb. 27: Alexander Santos Argueta-Ventura, 24, stabbed to death on Gates Avenue.
Feb. 17: David Sandler, 20, fatally shot on Timberline Drive; another man was seriously wounded.
Dec. 30: Valentino Sanchez, 21, shot to death in his Pheasant Circle apartment.
Nov. 20: Christopher Hamilton, 15, killed by gunfire at a party.
Sept. 12: Miguel Peralta, 57, killed during a bodega robbery.
June 15: Wilson Batista Jr., 13, shot twice while playing basketball at Timberline Park.
July 12: Edgar Villalobos, 28, hacked to death with a machete by alleged MS-13 members.
Aug. 29: Four people wounded when masked gunmen open fire on a birthday party.
Feb. 12: Kevin Pierson, 38, found stabbed to death in his apartment.
Feb. 5: Vanessa Argueta, 19, and her toddler son are fatally shot.
Aug. 21: Angel Liciaga, 67, found stabbed to death in his home after not being seen for several days.
May 26: Dexter Acheampong, 24, shot to death on East Maple Street.
March 11: Joel Nieves, 16, shot five times in the back and critically wounded as he walked home from night classes at Brentwood High School.