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To combat gang violence, dozens march for peace in Brentwood

After the deaths of two teenage girls, the Rev. Bryan Greaves organized a march in Brentwood on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, to share a message of peace, unity and love to "sustain us through this trying time that we're going through and to help us heal." (Credit: Ed Betz)

About 50 people participated in a “prayer and peace” march through Brentwood on Saturday following the recent homicides linked to gang violence in the hamlet.

The day’s bright sunshine and warmth was a complement to the hopeful message of the march, which was organized by the Rev. Bryan Greaves of Holy Church of Christ in Central Islip.

“We need to heal in order to bring understanding to everything that’s going on,” Greaves said. “We whole heartily believe it’s time for the world to ignite a love revival and start loving again, to start caring again, start respecting again.”

During the past two weeks, the Brentwood community has been rocked by tragedy and fear. Starting with the discovery of the bodies of Nisa Mickens, 15, and her best friend, Kayla Cuevas, 16, on Sept. 13 and 14 in a residential area. Both had been beaten to death.

On Sept. 16, the remains of Oscar Acosta, 19, were discovered in a wooded area west of Emjay Boulevard, north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks. On Wednesday, the remains of Miguel García Morán, 15, who was reported missing Feb. 20, were discovered in the same wooded area where Acosta was found.

Acosta, Cuevas and Mickens all were students at Brentwood High School’s Ross Center.

FBI agents and federal prosecutors suspect an extremely violent group of MS-13 gang members may be behind the four killings, sources said.

Led by a three-vehicle convoy including a Suffolk County police car, the marchers Saturday chanted “Increase the peace, release the peace, spread the peace, we need more peace,” as they walked from Ross High School to Ross Memorial Park in the heart of Brentwood’s shopping district near Suffolk Avenue and Brentwood Road. Many carried signs emblazoned with such messages as “More Love” and “Spread Peace.”

Whitney Thomas, 27, who used to live in Brentwood, said she came to show support for the community and its young people.

“I coach basketball and I see the encouragement they need,” she said. “It’s important to focus on those trying to do their best and that’s most of the kids.”

Brentwood resident and systems analyst Jose Santana, 44, said it’s important to send a message of hope to the community and to convey to those outside the community that Brentwood has more good, law-abiding people than not.

“I feel like we can move forward,” he said. “I’m here to support all of the positive things that go on in the community. There are a lot of hardworking immigrants here, we can’t lose sight of that.”

Greaves said he hopes this “campaign of love” will create something that’s sustainable.

“We can’t go on like this,” he said. “From Tulsa to Charlotte to Brentwood, we’re in a bad place and it has to change.”

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