The gang-related killing of 15-year-old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz one year ago sent shock waves through his Bronx community, as friends and family mourned the loss of a “sweet kid” who had dreamed of becoming a police detective.
The NYPD arrested 14 suspects, living up to its promise of leaving “no stone unturned” in the investigation into the slaying of Guzman-Feliz, who was affectionately called “Junior.”
On June 14, the five men accused of fatally stabbing the teen were found guilty of first- and second-degree murder, conspiracy and gang assault. Eight other suspects, who are accused of taking part in the assault but didn’t stab Guzman-Feliz, are being tried separately. One suspect pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with the prosecution.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill has credited the arrests to the public’s “unrivaled help” and an “outpouring of nonstop assistance” in the case.
Read on to learn more about Guzman-Feliz and the aftermath of his death.
The attack on Guzman-Feliz was apparently a case of mistaken identity
On June 20, 2018, surveillance video captured several men dragging Guzman-Feliz out of a bodega on East 183rd Street in the Belmont section of the Bronx and repeatedly stabbing him in the neck and body with knives and a machete.
After the suspects fled, Guzman-Feliz managed to run to nearby St. Barnabas Hospital, where he collapsed at the entrance and died. The city medical examiner’s office said he died of a stab wound to the neck and ruled his death a homicide.
Police believe the killing was related to intra-gang violence and that Guzman-Feliz was mistakenly targeted. The teen had left his house to give someone $5 and encountered the suspects on his way back home, NYPD officials said.
The suspects, thinking the teen was a member of a rival faction of their gang, chased Guzman-Feliz into the bodega and then dragged him out onto the sidewalk before stabbing and slashing him, according to police.
Guzman-Feliz’s death quickly caught the attention of high-ranking NYPD officials, including Chief of Department Terence Monahan, who called it “among the most brutal crimes” he’d ever seen. Investigators vowed to root out every person involved and hold them accountable.
Three days after the slaying, the first suspects were arrested. Of the 14 men who are charged, five have been convicted of fatally stabbing Guzman-Feliz. The other nine suspects are accused of being involved in the deadly crime.
Here are the 14 suspects and the charges against them:
- Manuel Rivera, of the Bronx: Guilty of first- and second-degree murder, conspiracy and gang assault.
- Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago, of the Bronx: Guilty of first- and second-degree murder, conspiracy and gang assault.
- Elvin Garcia, of Manhattan: Guilty of first- and second-degree murder, conspiracy and gang assault.
- Jonaiki Martinez Estrella, of Freeport: Guilty of first- and second-degree murder, conspiracy and gang assault.
- Jose Muniz, of the Bronx: Guilty of first- and second-degree murder, conspiracy and gang assault.
- Diego Suero, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, gang assault, conspiracy and criminal possession of a weapon.
- Frederick Then, of Reading, Pennsylvania: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, gang assault, conspiracy and criminal possession of a weapon.
- Ronald Urena, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, gang assault, conspiracy and criminal possession of a weapon.
- Luis A. Cabrera Santos, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
- Danilo Payamps Pacheco, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
- Gabriel Ramirez Concepcion, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
- Jose Taverez, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
- Danel Fernandez, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
- Kevin Alvarez, of the Bronx: Charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, conspiracy, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon. He pleaded guilty and testified against five of the main defendants accused of fatally stabbing Guzman-Feliz.
The murder trial
Guilty – that was the jury’s verdict against the five men who delivered the fatal blows to Guzman-Feliz.
The trial, which began on May 6, came to a close on June 14 after less than two days of jury deliberations. Jose Muniz, Elvin Garcia, Manuel Rivera, Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez Santiago and Jonaiki Martinez Estrella were found guilty of first- and second-degree murder, conspiracy and gang assault.
The victim’s mother, Leandra Feliz, thanked God for the guilty verdicts. “My son was a good kid. He was only 15 years old. He was doing the best in the school,” she said at a news conference outside of the Bronx Supreme Court building.
During the first full day of the trial, Tamika Jones, 21, testified that she witnessed the attack from her apartment window and shouted for Guzman-Feliz to run to the nearby hospital.
“By the time we got downstairs, he was already in front of the hospital, collapsed,” Jones said. “He had blood all over his body. He was trying to stay alive, holding his wound himself. His last words were water — he asked for water.”
During the second week of testimony, Feliz started screaming “no, no, no” and crying hysterically until she was escorted from the courtroom, according to published reports.
The incident reportedly happened while Alvarez was being cross-examined by a defense attorney. Feliz told News 12 The Bronx that her blood pressure rose when surveillance video of her son was played that showed Alvarez grabbing at her son after a bodega worker opened a counter door near where he was hiding.
An ambulance was called to the courthouse but she was not taken to a hospital, according to published reports. She was reportedly asked to leave the courtroom on another occasion for speaking out during trial testimony.
Guzman-Feliz’s father also reportedly had to leave the courtroom during a separate incident, after his son’s blood-soaked clothing was presented as evidence.
“I saw my son’s bloody T-shirt and I never want to see it again,” Lisandro Guzman told reporters outside the courthouse.
Suspected members of the Trinitarios gang
The suspects are purported members of the Los Sures set of the Trinitarios street gang, according to the NYPD.
On the night of Guzman-Feliz’s death, the group gathered at Suero’s Boston Road home and planned to attack another set of Trinitarios, called Sunset, police said. Suero is the suspected leader of Los Sures, according to Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark.
The suspects piled into four cars and drove to the territory of the rival gang, came upon Guzman-Feliz and chased him into the bodega, Clark said.
After the stabbing, the suspects went back to Suero’s home to hide their weapons and help Garcia, whose hand was cut during the attack, according to Clark.
The district attorney also dispelled previous published reports that claimed Guzman-Feliz was mistakenly targeted because of a sex tape with a girl connected with one of the suspects.
“As far as we know, at this time, there was no relation to any sex tape to this particular case,” Clark said. “That was said on social media but that has not been the information that we have in our case.”
Shea has said the Trinitarios were known to the department before Guzman-Feliz’s death. Since then, police have arrested at least 79 purported Trinitarios members across the city, mostly on felony charges, according to Shea.
“This was one significant case involving Trinitarios, but we’re going to continue to target not just the Trinitarios but any street gang that is involved in violence in New York City,” Shea added.
The NYPD connection
Before his death, Guzman-Feliz had aspired to become a police detective and was a member of the NYPD’s Explorers program, an organization that aims to teach teens and young adults the importance of respect, self-discipline and furthering their education through training and community service projects.
The NYPD and the Police Foundation have set up a scholarship honoring Guzman-Feliz. The Lesandro Guzman-Feliz Memorial College Fund will provide two $5,000 scholarships each year to members of the Explorers program to be used toward tuition and school supplies upon enrollment in an accredited college.
“There is no better way to honor a young man whose stated dream was to become one of the greatest detectives in the world than by establishing a memorial scholarship in his honor,” O’Neill had said when announcing the scholarship.
The inaugural scholarships were presented to Nahomi Zambrano and Malachi Nelson at the Law Enforcement Explorers graduation ceremony on Aug. 22. The recipients were selected based on an application, personal essay, letters of recommendation and successful completion of the Explorers program.
Guzman-Feliz’s parents, who attended the ceremony, said the teen would have been happy with his namesake scholarship.
Family and community outrage
News of Guzman-Feliz’s slaying spread rapidly due, in part, to video of the attack that was shared on social media.
The Belmont community quickly rallied behind the teen’s family and a memorial grew outside the bodega where he was attacked.
The hashtag #JusticeforJunior became an online rallying cry for those who wished to show support for the family and to demand justice from police.
Hundreds of mourners attended Guzman-Feliz’s funeral on June 27, and hundreds more stood outside during the service. People waiting outside Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Belmont chanted, “Justice for Junior!” as his coffin was carried out.
The teen’s heartbroken parents have publicly demanded justice on several occasions. Last year, after 12 of the suspects pleaded not guilty, Guzman-Feliz’s mother stood outside of the courthouse and thanked the public for their support.
“And I hope you continue to come and to support me, me and my son,” she said. “Please, don’t leave me alone. I need help and support from everybody.”
Feliz said it was important for her to attend the court appearances.
“They [killed] a baby. They [killed] a 15 year old [boy],” she said. “They did not kill a man, a gang member or nothing.”
Guzman-Feliz’s death also caught the attention of several celebrities, including Bronx native Cardi B, Rihanna as well as La La and Carmelo Anthony, who visited Guzman-Feliz’s mother and sister.
On Feb. 27, Guzman-Feliz’s family and City Councilman Ritchie Torres held a street renaming ceremony at 183rd Street & Bathgate Avenue.
“Junior impacted thousands of lives and this is a small way to memorialize his life and legacy,” Torres said while announcing the ceremony on Twitter.
The teen will also be memorialized with a namesake summer camp dedicated to helping Bronx children. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who announced “Camp Junior” during his State of the Borough address on Feb. 21, said children between the ages of 9 and 13 who live in specific ZIP codes will be eligible for the free camp at Harriman State Park in Rockland and Orange counties.
With Nicole Brown, Anthony DeStefano and Allegra Hobbs