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Justice for Junior: Friday marks month since teen’s killing

THE BRONX — It’s been one month Friday since  Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz was dragged from a Bronx bodega and savagely killed by a group of suspected gang members armed with knives and machetes.

The slaying sparked outrage that has remained palpable since and led to an outpouring of support for a grieving family.

Twelve alleged gang members have been arrested in the teen’s killing, which has put a spotlight on the impact gangs have on communities as well as the efforts to fight such violence.

Below, PIX11 explores what happened to Guzman-Feliz, actions and reactions from officials and community members, and the biggest developments in the month since his death.

Who was “Junior”?

Guzman-Feliz, affectionately known to family and friends as “Junior,” was just 15 years old when he was set upon by a group of men the night of June 20 and killed outside a Bronx bodega, not far from his home.

Before his death, Guzman-Feliz’s mother said he was kind and always by her side.

Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz (NYPD)

“My son was a little shy kid, 15 years old, just starting his life. He was a sweetheart. He’d never been in a fight in his short life,” Leandra Feliz told PIX11.

The teen hoped to use that affection for others to do good. He’d joined the NYPD Explorers program — an organization for youth interested in a career in law enforcement — and was planning on eventually becoming a police officer.

“His dream was to be a detective. Since he was 5 years old, he liked to play with police cars. He would say, ‘Mommy, I want to be a police officer,'” Feliz said.

That reputation of wanting to do good was known to those at his school, Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School, where he was a sophomore.

“He was a kind, sweet, respectful young man, always smiling, who had so much potential,” the school said in a statement days after Guzman-Feliz’s death.

The night June 20

Guzman-Feliz was chased to a Bathgate Avenue bodega close to his home in Belmont at about 11:40 p.m.

He’d been a convoy of four cars. Inside were reputed members of the Trinitarios gang, allegedly cruising for rivals.

“They engaged him,” NYPD Chief Jason Wilcox said. “They exit the car, he sees the threat, and he begins to run.”

The group of men apparently believed Guzman-Feliz was a member of rival gang, investigators said.

The teen ran for his life. He sprinted for blocks, running so hard he lost his sandals about a block from the bodega where he was eventually hunted down and killed.

Surveillance images show the frantic teen trying to seek shelter in that bodega before an onslaught of men entered to store and grabbed Guzman-Feliz.

He can be seen holding the door frame, trying to fend off his would-be killers as they beat him. The gang of men eventually pulled him out and repeatedly punched and stabbed him, with one attacker using a machete to slit his throat.

Videos continued to capture Guzman-Feliz’s final moments, as he ran, bloodied, back into the bodega asking for help. A man is seen pointing out the door, and the teen stammered out. He tried to make his way to a hospital nearby but collapsed and died on the sidewalk.

What happened in the bodega? 

Surveillance video that captured the attack is clear, but there is no audio.

Social media posts after Guzman-Feliz’s death were quick to point out the apparent inaction of those inside the bodega and accused the workers of ignoring a dying teen. A petition to close the store circulated online, falling just shy of 200,000 signatures.

Eight days after Guzman-Feliz was killed, the bodega owner told his side of the story.

Modesto Cruz said he panicked the night of the stabbing and did not realize what was going on in his store, but said he did try to help, and offered up surveillance footage showing Guzman-Feliz jumping over the counter as the owner appeared to pull him over.

Cruz said he recognized the teen and noticed how scared he looked, so he tried to help. But the attackers quickly spotted Guzman-Feliz behind the counter and dragged him outside.

The owner said he immediately called 911 and spent four minutes on the phone while the operator repeatedly asked him questions. He said he made it clear that an ambulance was needed at the bodega right away.

When speaking about footage that captured another man pointing a mortally wounded Guzman-Feliz out of the bodega, Cruz said the man was not kicking the teen out but rather saying an ambulance was taking too long, and pointed to the hospital located a few blocks away.

Investigators have confirmed 911 calls were made. The store has yet to reopen.

#JusticeForJunior

Guzman-Feliz’s death stood out not only for its savagery, but because of the clear video — both surveillance and cellphone — that captured the final, terrifying moments of his life.

Justice For Junior” became a rallying cry shared widely on social media.

A memorial outside the bodega, where he was first attacked, spanned blocks before being taken down. Numerous murals were erected in the boy’s honor. Thousands attended his funeral and wake.

For Guzman-Feliz’s mother, “Justice for Junior” started the moment men began chasing after her son.

Feliz is grateful for the outpouring of community support for her and her family in the wake of her son’s death — but it’s the gang culture, and hesitation to help others, that angers her.

“People, please call 911. Report it right away. They can save life, just calling 911,” she said.

For those living in areas of the Bronx where gang life is tempting for some young people, Feliz said she wants to encourage them to change and not just in matters of lifestyle.

“If they do it from the heart, they change,” she said.

Feliz shared with PIX11 a poster sent to her from someone in the community that she says resonates with her. It reads:

“I am ‘Junior’ Lesandro Guzman-Feliz. I was brutally murdered on 6/20/18 by a gang. I was only 15 yrs. Old and no one helped me get to a hospital on time. My young life could not be saved. I should have survived but those around did not help me, they did not protect me. All I wanted to do was become an NYPD detective so I can protect and keep people safe. Communities need to come together so this never happens again. Lets bring Peace and love. Please do me the honor.”

The investigation and debunked rumors

Social media posts included support for Guzman-Feliz’s family and the community, but also rumors about what led to his death.

Theories about a sex tape, of which many said the teen was mistakenly thought to be part of, flooded conversation boards online. Talk about $5 a “friend” sought to borrow, and allegedly used to lure Guzman-Feliz out of his home, were seemingly everywhere.

None of this is true, investigators say.

The sex tape in question had been online for months before his killing and is not related to the case, sources told PIX11.

The $5 rumor is true — but only in part.

When Guzman-Feliz left his home the night of his death, he intended to pay a “known person” $5, according to Wilcox. This statement mirrors what the teen’s mother has said in interviews with PIX11 and other media outlets: that her son intended to lend a longtime family friend, one whom she still speaks with, $5.

There has been no official allegations that this known, unnamed friend meant Guzman-Feliz any ill-will, or sought to lure him to his death.

12 suspects arrested

Twelve accused gang members accused of killing Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz on June 20, 2018, are pictured.

The 12th and final suspect wanted in connection to Guzman-Feliz’s death was arrested July 9.

“We have all four drivers; we have all four cars” involved in the chase and getaway, sources told PIX11 News. “Everybody on video we identified. Everyone who took part was busted.”

Those arrested are:

  • Luis A. Cabrarasantos, 25
  • Danilo Payamps Pacheco, 21
  • Danel Fernandez, 21
  • Jose Muniz, 21
  • Manuel Rivera, 18
  • Santiago Rodriguez, 24
  • Kevin Alvarez, 19
  • Elvin Garcia, 23
  • Joniki Martinez, 24
  • Jose Taverez, 21
  • Diego Suero, 29
  • Gabriel Ramirez Concepcion, 26

The arrests spanned three states, with Cabrarasantos being detained in Connecticut following a police pursuit, six of the other men being tracked down in Paterson, New Jersey, and others found in New York City.

Each of the men have since gone in front of a judge — appearances that can be seen here on PIX11's Facebook page.

All 12 are believed to be members of the Trinitarios gang.

Who are the Trinitarios?

The Trinitarios gang started in the early 1990s in Rikers Island, as Dominican inmates sought a way to protect themselves, experts told PIX11. The gang spread as those inmates were released.

From inside Rikers to the streets, the Trinitarios are well-connected and it’s been estimated more than 1,000 members are operating in New York City and they’ve spread to other states.

The gang is known for using machetes, like the one used to killed Guzman-Feliz, in its attacks.

What's next? "Junior's Law" introduced

The proposed Safe Havens for Endangered Children legislations, also known as "Junior's Law," would require that all small businesses be a safe haven for minors who are in danger or need help. It was introduced by Sen. Luis Sepúlveda and Assemblyman Victor Pichardo.

"From this tragedy, we will bring about positive changes," Sepúlveda said.

The legislation aims to prevent another instance of violence like that which killed Guzman-Feliz. If passed, it will also amend the education law to create safe walking home zones. Officials would work with local chambers of commerce to construct safe pathways to and from schools.

Guzman-Feliz's father, Lissandro Guzman, said he hopes the legislation passes.

"I feel very content and with all my heart I hope the bill that carries my son's name get's passed so it can prevent situations like this from happening again and so we can create more security for our beloved children," Guzman said in a statement translated from Spanish.

A separate piece of legislation would amend state labor and public health laws to require that small businesses — those with 50 or fewer employees — keep first-aid kits on hand.

Funding the fight against gangs

In the wake of Guzman-Feliz's death, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised the state will invest $18 million in gang prevention.

The announcement was made last week alongside Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

"'Justice for Junior' means that we have to come together — that we have to plan. That we have to get beyond the commentary [and] give our youth the hopes and opportunities so that they never have to find themselves in a situation where they have to join a gang or be a victim to gang violence," Diaz Jr. said.

The $18 million investment will be made for programs and services that battle the gang problem from its root, Cuomo said. Included in the investment is $5 million for Roberto Clemente State Park, $1 million to the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx, $250,000 to the Police Athletic League Inc. and another $250,000 for mental health programs and counseling in schools.

The NYPD — which Guzman-Feliz dreamed of joining — established a scholarship in the teen's name days after his death. The scholarship will give two graduates of the NYPD’s Explorer Summer Camp $5,000 each for college tuition and school supplies, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Click here for additional resources for parents, guardians and youth about anti-gang, community policing and intervention programs.

A "shared responsibility"

Investigators have repeatedly thanked tipsters who flooded police hotlines with information about Guzman-Feliz's death, helping the department to swiftly make arrests in the case.

But helping after crimes are committed isn't enough, NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said.

“For our city to achieve true public safety, we need to share responsibility," O’Neill said. “We need your help both to prevent teens from joining gangs and also to say something, if you have information."