EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (PIX11) — Jesse Parrilla was finishing up business classes at Genessee Community College upstate and playing basketball every chance he got on the Lower East Side.
That’s where he helped a friend on the night of Sunday, May 15, with a ride home–a decision that led to the brutal death of both.
“He wasn’t affiliated with gangs, he wasn’t into any of that stuff,” his grieving mother, Michelle Morales, told PIX11 News inside her East Village apartment. “Jesse was always on his career path. I never really allowed him to hang out.”
But on the night of May 15, Jesse Parilla took his 2020 silver Honda to the car wash, knowing he would be giving his mother a ride hours later. He even sent a photo of the gleaming vehicle to his mom.
Instead, the 22-year-old Parrilla ended up being carjacked after he gave a ride home to his friend from middle school. Nikki Huang, also 22, lived on Grand Street. Her family owned a restaurant there and a salon called Nails by Nikki.
The night ended at 4:30 a.m. with both shot in the head and set on fire inside Parrilla’s Honda, which had been driven to a secluded golf course in the Bronx.
“Whoever did this to my son is sick and evil,” the mom said through tears, “and I’m not sure it’s their first time.”
Police sources told PIX11 News Parrilla and Huang apparently ended up victims of a violent gang rivalry that played out on the Lower East Side the night of May 15 into the early hours of May 16.
Nikki Huang had been robbed earlier Sunday, and she complained to friends she knew who had affiliations with the “Up the Hill” gang, which is based on the Lower East Side. “Up the Hill” often feuds with members of the “Down the Hill” crew, which has a stronghold in the East Village.
Within hours of Huang’s complaints about getting mugged, a man affiliated with the “Down the Hill” crew was fatally shot in the head on Avenue D, near East 3rd Street, in the East Village. Soon after, two members of “Up the Hill” were shot and wounded on Pike Street.
A source told PIX11 News Jesse Parrilla gave Nikki Huang the ride to Grand Street around 1 a.m. Monday morning. While his car was parked in front of her apartment building, Huang apparently was banging on the door, because she’d forgotten to bring her keys. At some point, Parrilla was carjacked in his Honda. The vehicle swooped back and picked up Nikki Huang.
Michelle Morales, meantime, was repeatedly trying to reach her son. Parrilla and Huang were reportedly taken in the Honda to Maspeth, Queens, where a reputed gang member was shot in the face as he took out the garbage at 2:20 a.m. This was about the time Morales finally reached her son, who told his mother he was in Brooklyn.
“He really held it together,” his mother sobbed, “Whatever they told him, he made no sound of it.”
Morales kept asking her son if he was coming home, and she quoted his final words to her: “‘I love you, mom.’ And I went to say, ‘I love you, too’ — but the phone hung up. I still didn’t think of anything. I called back and it went straight to voicemail.”
The mother fell asleep and woke up at 5 a.m., worried about her son.
At 10:30 a.m., police called from the 45th Precinct in the Bronx and asked if the 2020 Honda was her vehicle. When she went to the Bronx, she saw what was left of the car.
“I couldn’t imagine what he went through,” the mother cried, recalling seeing the burned-out shell of her son’s Honda. “I just couldn’t imagine. The pain that kid went through.”
Jesse Parrilla was seated in the driver’s seat of the car when he was found, burned beyond recognition with a gunshot to the head, while Nikki Huang was in the passenger seat, having suffered the same fate.
“He was taking a friend home and it cost him his life,” the mother said.
Morales spoke with pride of her son’s college studies and his basketball skills as a point guard. His tall trophies stand on a bureau in his bedroom, where his pajamas were neatly folded before Parrilla went out that last Sunday evening.
Parrilla’s basketball jersey is draped over his chair in the dining room, where a memorial of candles and red roses is set up in his memory. His mother is now taking care of his beloved cat, Pluto.
When PIX11 News visited Grand Street Tuesday, we met Nikki Huang’s father, Don, who was opening up the family restaurant, Wa Lung Kitchen. Neighbors had remembered young Nikki doing homework here over the years and helping with the meals.
“She was always helping, she’s a nice girl, always smiling,” Don Huang said about his daughter. “Everybody loved her.”
He said his daughter knew many people.
“She just grew up in the neighborhood, so she knew everyone here,” the father said. “We had a business, so everyone knew us.”
Parrilla’s mother is struggling to accept that her son walked into a situation way beyond his control and paid with his life. She is asking people on the Lower East Side and in the East Village to break their silence.
“I am so disappointed and upset and hurt by this community,” the mother said. “He played for this community. A lot of people that he’s known know what happened.”
A family member started a GoFundMe to help the family.