THE BRONX (PIX11)—The three colorful murals—each emanating a happy, life-like smile— are a contrast to the palpable sadness that still grips a Bronx neighborhood where a joyful teen was brutally murdered four years ago.
“There’s still a lot of pain here,” said Rev. Blue Baez, who has lived in Tremont for 42 years. “These things are not forgettable.”
On June 20, 2018, 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz was slain by a group of Trinitarios gang members at the corner of 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue in Tremont. The teen had tried to seek shelter at a nearby bodega when he was dragged out and stabbed with a knife and machete, authorities said.
Five members of the Trinitarios gang have already been convicted of the attack. The trials of two more suspects, Diego Suero and Frederick Then, are set to begin with jury selection, about a week shy of the four-year anniversary of the incident. Jury selection had been scheduled for Tuesday, but a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office said on Monday that it had been moved to Wednesday.
Suero, the alleged leader of the Los Sures set of the Trinitarios gang, is accused of giving the order to hunt down rivals before the teen’s death. Then is the alleged No. 2 leader in the Los Sures set. Both defendants are charged with murder.
The trials were originally scheduled for 2019 but have been further delayed by the pandemic. A lawyer for one of the defendants also died.
“It’s a sad thing, very, very sad,” said Baez, who refers to himself as Junior’s unofficial godfather. “Every day before school, Junior would stop by and give me a kiss on the cheek.”
Neighborhood residents say it’s been impossible to move on when the deli where Junior sought refuge is still open. Surveillance video preceding the vicious attack shows Junior entering the bodega at 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue seeking help before being turned away.
Several locals said they tried to avoid going into the deli out of respect for Junior, and are not keen on supporting an establishment that turned its back on one of their own.
“They wanted to burn the place down,” Baez said of the deli. “We had to keep the community at bay.”
The store closes every year on June 20, locals said. The deli manager and workers declined to speak to PIX11.
On the side of a building that houses the deli, Brooklyn native George Fernandez painted a moving mural of Junior, whom he said he felt a kinship with because of the Dominican Republic roots. It took about a week to finish the mural and Junior’s mother painted the first stroke, the artist said.
Candles and flowers are still left by the mural four years later.
“It was very, very personal to me,” Fernandez said. “His energy was there. It felt like he was with me the entire process.”
Two other murals painted by other artists adorn the neighborhood, including one on the facade of a car repair shop that features a halo on top of Junior’s head. Another mural pays tribute to Junior being part of the NYPD Explorer Program.
“He was a beautiful kid,” Baez said. “Everybody loved him.”