THE BRONX, N.Y. (PIX11) — A suspect wanted in connection to the shooting and burning deaths of two friends last year was arrested in the Bronx on Tuesday after a 10-month manhunt, two law enforcement sources told PIX11 News.

The NYPD previously identified Jahmel Sanders as one of the suspects in the case. A $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest.

Sanders and an alleged gang associate, Steven Santiago, are accused in the May 16 deaths of Nikki Huang, 22, and her friend Jesse Parrilla, also 22. The pair were found dead in Parrilla’s burning Honda near the Split Rock Golf Course in the Bronx.

Huang’s mother, Amy Chan, just finished doing her first television interview with PIX11 News on Tuesday, when law enforcement sources confirmed the arrest.

“I kept asking Detective Soto if this would end up a cold case and he always assured me it would not,” Chan told PIX11 after learning of the arrest. “I’m thankful that the detectives stayed persistent and thankful that you got as much exposure for my daughter’s and Jesse’s case from the beginning.”

Parrilla’s mother, Michelle Morales, also spoke with PIX11 after the arrest on Tuesday.

“I want to thank the team that’s working on this, and I think the investigation is going in the right direction,” she said.

Chan had sobbed while recalling how her only daughter was locked out of the family’s apartment in the early hours of May 16, 2022, because Huang’s designer bag and phone had been stolen after she finished work at the family’s restaurant on Grand Street on the Lower East Side, police sources previously told PIX11.

Steven Santiago and Jahmel Sanders (Credit: NYPD)

Huang was upset about her bag being stolen and some people she purportedly knew from the “Up the Hill” street gang allegedly took matters into their own hands, according to police sources close to the investigation. They allegedly shot a rival from the “Down the Hill” gang the same night at Avenue D and East Third Street, sources told PIX11. The victim, Brandon Atkinson, was the half-brother of Steven Santiago, the sources said.

Three other non-fatal shootings followed before Parrilla, a college student and long-time basketball player, was shot in the head and put back into the seat of his gray Honda, while Huang was fatally shot in the head and put in the passenger seat, according to sources. The suspects then set the car on fire, police said.

Four men were seen leaving the scene in the Bronx in a white Fiat, which was later abandoned and burned near the Major Deegan Expressway, police said. Santiago, the only other suspect publicly identified by the NYPD, remained on the loose as of Tuesday.

Detective John Soto, one of the lead detectives in the investigation, had spoken to PIX11 News before the first arrest Tuesday.

“This was a very complicated case,” Soto, of the 45th Squad said, “where there were a lot of moving parts.  There were a lot of other individuals who had a hand in this.”

Soto and Huang’s mother were appealing for people to provide confidential information to the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS, which is totally anonymous.  Up to $10,000 in cash is available to anyone giving tips that result in an arrest and conviction.  

“Everything is completely anonymous,” Soto said.  “When they call, they will be assigned a number.  The bank will get that number. You will get cash.”

Soto reassured reluctant witnesses who have information that they will never have to appear in court.

“You would never be revealed,” Soto said.  “You don’t have to testify. You don’t have to speak to me or speak to the DA.  If you give the information, they give you a number, and you never have to see or hear from any of us.”