LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (PIX11) — A tearful interview with a grieving mom in the Bronx burning car case revealed the accused killer, who was just arrested, used to hang out at her family restaurant on Grand Street.
“When I saw the pictures of the two guys, I’ve seen the guys at the restaurant,” Amy Chan, the mother of Nikki Huang, told PIX11 News on Tuesday. “[Nikki] was always trying to help, trying to feed people.”
Chan was speaking of Jahmel Sanders, who was arrested near a Bronx shelter on Tuesday, and Steven Santiago, who police identified as another suspect in the case but has not been apprehended nearly 10 months after the two men allegedly shot Huang and her friend, Jesse Parrilla, in the head — before setting Parrilla’s gray Honda on fire with the victims in the front seats.
“They didn’t just kill her,” the mother cried. “I never got to see her.”
Chan had agreed to do an interview with PIX11 News Tuesday morning because she and a lead investigator in the case, Det. John Soto, wanted to encourage people with information to come forward. Police said multiple unidentified suspects were involved in a multi-layered night of violence pitting rival gangs against each other.
Soto encouraged people who want to stay anonymous to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.
“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 [district attorney]. You give the information, they give you a number, and you never have to see or hear from any of us.”
NYPD Chief of Detectives, James Essig, previously announced a $10,000 reward in the case for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
Huang had just left work at her family’s restaurant on May 15, 2022, when she was robbed of her Louis Vuitton bag in a parking lot. She was upset about the robbery and contacted her father in a panic, her mother said.
“She called her father about 9:30 p.m. saying she was pistol-whipped and they took her stuff,” Amy Chan recalled.
The mother said Huang told her dad to change the locks on the apartment door.
“Because they took her keys, she was worried about them going to the house,” Chan said.
Police think one of Huang’s acquaintances from downtown heard about the robbery and decided to take matters into his own hands.
By 11 p.m., a man named Brandon Atkinson was shot in the head on Avenue D and East Third Street, according to police. He was the half-brother of Santiago.
Police said Atkinson was affiliated with the “Down the Hill” street gang, although he didn’t have anything to do with the robbery. Soon after Atkinson was killed, alleged Down the Hill members started going after people who belonged to the “Up the Hill” gang, police said.
“One gang retaliating against another gang,” Soto said. “Innocent people are going to get hurt. That’s the nature of that game.”
Soto added he didn’t think anyone could have imagined the brutality that Huang and Parrilla had to endure.
Investigators believe Parrilla was forced to lure Huang from her apartment door with a text after he had dropped her off. They said another man was lured from his home in Queens and shot in the face before one of the suspects ran over him. The victim survived.
PIX11 News has learned at least five cars were utilized during the night of gunfire.
Parrilla’s gray Honda was driven to the Queens shooting location, along with a white Nissan. A white Fiat was used as the getaway car after Huang and Parrilla had been shot and burned in the Bronx near the Split Rock Golf Course. A tan Mercedes was seen at the scene of two non-fatal shootings near Pike Street in Manhattan.
These four vehicles were later found, and all of them had been burned, sources said. The only car not accounted for is a black Ford Fusion.
Chan appealed to anyone with even a morsel of information to call in a tip.
“You’re not giving your names or anything,” Chan said. “You’re not snitching. The killers: They knew Nikki. They knew Jesse. They’re all in the same circle.”
Submit tips to police by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), visiting crimestoppers.nypdonline.org, downloading the NYPD Crime Stoppers mobile app, or texting 274637 (CRIMES) then entering TIP577. Spanish-speaking callers are asked to dial 1-888-57-PISTA (74782).