BRENTWOOD, Long Island — The mother of a teen brutally murdered by alleged MS-13 gang members in Brentwood was fatally struck by a vehicle at the site where a memorial service was about to be held for her daughter on Friday after a heated confrontation with a driver, officials confirmed.
Evelyn Rodriguez, 50, the mother of Kayla Cuevas, was killed in the same area where her daughter was found dead exactly two years ago on September 14, 2016. Congressman Peter King says it happened around 4:10 p.m., about an hour before a planned candlelight service at that location for her daughter.
Suffolk County Police say Rodriguez and another person were standing on Ray Court near Stahley Street involved in a dispute with the driver of a 2016 Nissan Rouge over the placement of a memorial dedicated to Rodriguez’s daughter.
During the dispute, the driver, who is a relative of a resident of Ray Court, sped up in an attempt to leave the scene and her vehicle struck Rodriguez. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The driver, who remained on scene and called 911, was not injured.
So far, there is no evidence of ties to MS-13 or any indication that the crash was retribution by the gang, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The driver remained at the scene and was not immediately arrested, according to the official, who added that detectives are still investigating what prompted the confrontation.
Cuevas, 16, and her friend, Nisa Mickens, 15, were found beaten and hacked to death in the Long Island neighborhood of Brentwood, the killings blamed on the MS-13 gang. Cuevas' body was found on Sept. 14, 2016. Brentwood has since become the epicenter in the fight against MS-13 violence.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who had worked with Rodriguez on a campaign ad, was on his way to the memorial when he learned that she had been hit. He said it happened about an hour before a service was scheduled to begin.
"It's a tragedy beyond belief," King told the AP. "Everyone is in shock. What more could happen to one woman?"
Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini, who was police commissioner when Cuevas and Mickens were killed, said Rodriguez was "one of the strongest people" he's ever met and that he's heartbroken over her death.
"She was a fierce advocate for her hometown of Brentwood and was fearless in her fight to put an end to the violence caused by MS-13 to ensure that other parents never have to endure the pain she suffered," Sini said.
Rodriguez spoke out against the gang and the local school district after Cuevas and Mickens were attacked with machetes and baseball bats. Mickens' body was found near an elementary school on Sept. 13, 2016. Cuevas' body was found the next day, a few hundred feet away.
The girls' alleged killers, who were arrested along with about a dozen other suspected MS-13 members, are facing murder charges that could result in the death penalty.
MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha, is blamed for dozens of killings on Long Island since 2016. Trump has blamed the violence on lax immigration policies.
Prosecutors say Kayla was targeted because of ongoing disputes with gang members at her school. They say Nisa was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rodriguez filed a $110 million lawsuit last December against the Brentwood School District, claiming it ignored warnings that MS-13 members were threatening Kayla.
Rodriguez said that employees failed to act when told that the girl was being threatened. The lawsuit says the bullying went on for two years before the teenager was killed.
Rodriguez told a House subcommittee last year that residents were living in fear and were afraid to let their kids play outside.
"The MS-13 gang is so unpredictable you just don't know who is who with them," Rodriguez said. "MS-13 is a new breed of murderers, they are children, kids killing kids, and as they continue to grow, so does their techniques of recruiting helpless kids into their wicked actions."
MS-13 is believed by federal prosecutors to have thousands of members across the U.S., primarily immigrants from Central America.
It has a stronghold in Los Angeles, where it emerged in the 1980s as a neighborhood street gang, and is suspected of violence in cities and suburbs across the United States.
Cuevas and Mickens' deaths put a sharpened focus on what had already been a spate of gang violence on Long Island. MS-13 has been blamed for more than two dozen slayings across a wide swath of the island since January 2016.
The parents of both teens were invited to President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech in 2018.
Evelyn Rodriguez was also invited to meet with Trump before the speech.
Rodriguez told The New York Times she was honored to be invited and said the focus on MS-13 wasn’t about immigration. She said everybody should put their political agenda aside and think about what’s going on in the country.
Last month, an MS-13 member pleaded guilty to participating in the brutal massacre of four young men in nearby Central Islip.
Josue Portillo, 17, admitted to planning the April 2017 killings with other MS-13 defendants because he said they believed the four were rival gang members, prosecutors said. The victims were lured to a park and attacked with machetes, knives and clubs.
Detectives are asking anyone with information on this incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392.