Just two weeks ago NYPD Auxiliary Officer John Grace, 24, and 15-year-old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, known as “Junior,” sat down to a plate of tacos to plan a trip to Six Flags. On Wednesday, Guzman-Feliz’s family buried him.
Guzman-Feliz, whose death sparked outrage throughout the city, was fatally stabbed on June 20 in a case of mistaken identity by what police believe to be several members of the Trinitarios gang. He was dragged out of a bodega on East 183rd Street and stabbed in the neck with machetes. He tried to run to a hospital after, but didn’t survive.
Guzman-Feliz was also a member of the NYPD’s Explorers program, having joined in January, and dreamed of becoming a detective someday.
“It broke my heart,” Grace said of Guzman-Feliz’s death, adding he told the rest of the Explorers in their group: “This is the hardest thing we’ll ever have to do, but we’re going to give him his last respects, we’re going to give him a salute and then that’s how knows up above that he’s our brother.”
Guzman-Feliz was quiet when he first joined the 45th Precinct’s program, Grace said: “It was our turn to break him in,” he joked. Grace, who attends John Jay College of Criminal Justice while working out of the Bronx’s 45th Precinct, acts as a mentor to a dozen or so explorers. They go bowling, meet at the park, and on June 12 Grace and Guzman-Feliz sat down to tacos in Washington Heights to plan a theme park adventure that would never happen.
“I will remember him as making a lot of jokes,” he said. “He was always laughing.”
Guzman-Feliz, like all new Explorers, would learn drills and the NYPD’s rank system. They also talked about video games (NBA 2K was his favorite) and college. Guzman-Feliz wanted to attend John Jay as well.
“Most explorers, they’ve got two left feet sometimes, so he was one of them,” Grace fondly remembered. “But he did get into it.”
The NYPD’s Explorers program is open to kids 14 to 20 years old, and currently has more than 2,000 kids enrolled, said Alden Isiah Foster, deputy director for youth services and community engagement at the NYPD. Each precinct, housing command and transit district, as well as many school safety divisions, have their own explorer post.
The NYPD’s program is one of several Law Enforcement Explorers programs. Other agencies, such as the FBI, have programs as well, Foster said.
Explorers can choose their precinct (Guzman-Feliz joined the 45th because he knew someone already in the program). Explorers can later apply to transition into the cadet program, which requires at least 45 college credits and includes a salary.
The program includes volunteer work in the communities, such as cleaning up parks or painting over graffiti, Foster said. He said Explorers are given the cellphone number of their advising officer and can reach with any question or issue.
“It’s really serving the community,” he said. “The good thing about the Explorers program is we would love for them to become cops but the ultimate goal … is we want them to be successful.”
Foster added: “We don’t just teach police department skills, we teach life skills. And we want them to be successful at whatever path that they take as long as it’s positive.”
Foster said Guzman-Feliz “wanted to be one of us” and called his death “a great tragedy.”