ONE POLICE PLAZA — NYPD Assistant Chief Jason Wilcox was commanding officer of Bronx Detectives for five years and will never forget the call he got last June 20, or the surveillance video he was shown from the Belmont bodega.
“You’re looking at the video,” Wilcox told PIX11, “and you see how brutal and cruel it was, and it affects us, and we see immediately the importance of this.”
“That image of Junior’s face, his eyes, them dragging him out of that bodega … was incredibly powerful and it immediately connected with people,” Wilcox noted. “They felt for Junior. You couldn’t help but feel for him. You felt his fear. You felt his terror.”
Wilcox believes the empathy people felt for 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz drove them to help police, calling NYPD Crimestoppers in unprecedented numbers during the first 48 to 72 hours of the investigation—crucial times.
“Anyone who has children who sends them out to a store, and this child gets intercepted by gang members,” Wilcox said, “The importance of it, we understood immediately.”
“This incident was much more than just a police incident,” Wilcox observed. “This became a city issue we had to confront. How do we deal with gang violence? And how it affects our kids and our communities and our blocks and neighborhoods.”
Wilcox, during an interview at police headquarters on the first anniversary of Junior’s murder, said that a coalition of investigative agencies were responsible for rounding up so many suspects in a timely fashion.
The Bronx’s 48th Precinct worked with the Bronx Homicide Squad and Bronx Gang Unit.
Michael Reyes, a gang member involved in the chase, had initially fled to the Dominican Republic but flew back to New York at his mother’s urging.
He helped police identify suspects with assistance from Facebook photos.
Another gang member, Kevin Alvarez, turned himself in on Sunday, June 24, and was the first suspect charged with second-degree murder.
Alvarez later reached a plea deal with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and became the star witness in the case.
Detectives rounded up 15 suspects, with the five stabbers convicted of first-degree murder last week.
“It sends a huge message,” Wilcox said of the jury’s unanimous verdict, “an important message to people in gangs and gang violence. It will not be tolerated, not just by the city but by its people. Those jurors were brave.”
Wilcox said police initiatives in the wake of Junior’s murder have driven down violent crime in the Bronx.
“Violence overall in the Bronx is down this year,” Wilcox said. “The Bronx is down 43 percent in murder right now, 11 percent in shootings. There’s a 7 percent reduction in overall crime in the Bronx.”
And Wilcox had a message for the citizens of New York.
“They need to be confident in the fact that we are robustly investigating crime and gang members — whether it’s in the Bronx, northern Brooklyn, or northern Manhattan.”
Wilcox said he is still shaken — and moved — by Junior to this very day.
“Absolutely, I have a teenage son.”