LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan (PIX11) — The mother of a 22-year-old college student who was shot and burned to death with his middle school friend reacted Monday to the recent naming of two suspects in the murder investigation.
“I’m frustrated that it took this long and that they only have two suspects,” said Michelle Morales, mother of Jesse Parrilla, who was in the driver’s seat of a silver Honda that was found burning near a Bronx golf course May 16. “Because deep in my heart, I know there was more. Way more. It wasn’t just two.”
Parilla’s friend, Nikki Huang, also 22, was in the passenger’s seat of the charred car. Both young victims had been shot in the head in a vicious crime that had all the earmarks of a gang-type execution.
Morales did say she was “grateful” that police released photos of two persons of interest: Steven Santiago, 34, and Jahmel Sanders, 30, on Thursday. A law enforcement source told PIX11 News the two suspects lived at Baruch Houses on the Lower East Side, a three minute drive from where Nikki Huang lived in a coop development on Grand Street.
We’re told extensive surveillance captured the suspects at various times on Sunday, May 15–when a series of gang-related shootings and kidnappings started–into the early hours of Monday, May 16, when Huang and Parrilla were discovered in the burning Honda in the Bronx.
Investigators think the series of events between two rival gangs started after Huang was upset about getting robbed downtown and told some friends who had gang ties. The family of Nikki Huang has mostly grieved away from the public eye, although the young woman’s mother wrote to PIX11 News on Instagram when she thought her daughter was being unfairly blamed for what happened.
“It’s so unfair and gut wrenching knowing that my daughter was murdered and named a victim yet media…are still making it seem like she’s the reason for all this,” Huang’s mother, Amy Chan, wrote to us on July 14.
The mother added her daughter “was working three jobs trying to save up for an apartment she applied for and just got approved for. She helped with the family business during the day and picked up graveyard shifts at another restaurant because she was so excited about starting life with her new place.”
Michelle Morales told PIX11 News she thinks her son, a well-known local basketball player, knew the suspects, because “There were times that these guys came to see basketball games, and I’m sure they were there. My son knew a lot of people, but he wasn’t involved, he had no (gang) affiliation.”
The mother said she had never met the suspects.
“I don’t know these individuals,” Morales said. “I never let them in my house; my son never brought them around me.”
The mother raged about “grown men” targeting young victims.
“My son did not kill anybody,” the mother said, her voice thick with emotion, “or sent anybody to be killed, for you guys to do this to him, assassinate him!”
The law enforcement source told PIX11 News cameras showed Steven Santiago and Jahmel Sanders carjacking Jesse Parrilla about 1 a.m. on May 16. He had just dropped Nikki Huang off at her co-op.The source told us Parrilla was thrown into another car and taken to Baruch Houses, where he was roughed up some more before being taken back to Huang’s building in his Honda.
The victims were reportedly driven to Queens, where they witnessed a shooting, before they ended up fatally shot in the Bronx, with Parrilla’s car set on fire.The source said Santiago and Sanders were photographed near the burning car scene.
Michelle Morales said she received some threatening messages recently on the Instagram page she started for her son, “Justice for Jesse Parrilla.”
“I have every right to defend my son’s innocence,” the mother told PIX11 News. “And this will not go unsolved or in vain. My son’s murder will not be in vain.”