THE BRONX — Exactly one year after the brutal murder of 15-year-old Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz shocked a Bronx community and broke the city's collective heart, mourners will gather Thursday to honor the teen who came to represent the innocent victims of gang violence.
"Junior represents everyone's son, brother, cousin, and friend," Instagram user carola_718 said. "I was directly impacted by his death because he could have been my brother. He represents the typical teenager in NYC and that's why so many want to pay their respects because he symbolizes the every day kid just trying to survive in this concrete jungle we call New York City."
On June 20, 2018, Trinitarios gang members chased Junior into a Bronx bodega, then dragged him out to the street, where they attacked him with knives and a machete. Mortally wounded, Junior tried to make it to a nearby hospital, but collapsed on the sidewalk and died from the fatal stab wound to his neck.
"My family was very small. It was only me, Genesis, and Junior," Junior's mother, Leandra Feliz, said in a recent interview with PIX11 News. "So when the tragedy happened, I just said, 'Oh my God. Who's going to help me?'"
But Feliz said people from her community, and from all over the world, reached out and shared the mother's heartbreak. Many sent gifts, including paintings and sculptures depicting the son she'd lost.
"And still I am in shock because people don't know me. They didn't know my son," Feliz said. "This is only God. Only God can do this."
Junior's legacy continues to inspire thousands.
Cancer survivor Emy Rosas said the murder happened the same week she was diagnosed with cancer.
"When I saw he had no chance, it motivated me to fight for the chance I was given," Rosas said.
To honor the teen on this grim anniversary, memorials, marches and anti-violence events will take place around the city.
A mass will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, located at the corner of 187th Street and Belmont Avenue in the Bronx, followed by one hour of prayer.
At 7 p.m., Councilmember Ritchie Torres, Guzman-Feliz family and NYPD Explorers will then lead a march from the church to the bodega at East 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue, where a candlelight vigil will take place.
The march will also be a call to end gang violence and will have a moment of silence.
On Saturday, June 22, the Second Annual Stop the Violence community event will be held 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at 184th Street and Bathgate Avenue. Councilman Ritchie Torres and Junior's sister, Genesis Feliz, will be among the hosts. Musical performances include Mayra Luz, Miguell Y Jon Q, Denzel Y Marlex, Ray Villegas and Nas T Boyz.
The one-year anniversary falls just shy of a week since five Trinitarios gang members were each convicted on charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, second-degree gang assault and second-degree conspiracy.
Last Friday, a jury of 11 women and one man took just eight hours to decide the fates of Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, Manuel Rivera, Elvin Garcia, Jose Muniz and Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago. All face life in prison without parole.
"I didn't understand why those grown men did what they did," Instagram user deeliteful77 said. "They saw the fear in his eyes yet they had no mercy. Being that he wanted to live, he gathered his last bit of strength to run to the hospital to try to save himself. He has captured the hearts of many people around the world not just the Bronx. I saw that video one time and one time only. I cried for someone else's child because it could have been my own," she added, "He's my family now."