Mother dies in dis­pute over child’s me­mo­rial

Woman be­gan raz­ing dis­play, spark­ing a fa­tal con­fronta­tion

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION - By Alex Hor­ton WASH­ING­TON POST

Al­most ex­actly two years ago, mourn­ers gath­ered at Brent­wood High School on Long Is­land to re­mem­ber teenagers Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mick­ens, who were al­legedly killed by sus­pected MS-13 gang mem­bers. The night was pierced with hun­dreds of can­dle flames mar­shaled on the foot­ball field, though the two friends dreamed of play­ing pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball.

Kayla’s mother, Eve­lyn Ro­driguez, or­ga­nized another vigil for Fri­day to mark pre­cisely the two years since Kayla’s body was re­cov­ered from a wooded area off Ray Court, a ver­dant cul-de-sac.

The fam­ily put to­gether a me­mo­rial along the street for Kayla, whose slay­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­voked in his State of the Union ad­dress in Jan­uary.

At one point Fri­day af­ter­noon, some­one came out of a house on the street to dis­man­tle the me­mo­rial, CBS New York re­ported, with one wit­ness telling the sta­tion a woman was pop­ping bal­loons at the dis­play. Ro­driguez and Kayla’s fa­ther, Manny Cuevas, grew fu­ri­ous and yelled at a woman be­hind the wheel of a white Nis­san Rogue, cap­tured in a tense video by News 12.

Then, the woman tried to speed away. Ro­driguez was struck by the ve­hi­cle, and she was later pro­nounced dead at a hos­pi­tal, the Suf­folk County Po­lice De­part­ment said. Homi­cide de­tec­tives are in­ves­ti­gat­ing, the de­part­ment said in a state­ment, but a spokes­woman on Satur­day de­clined to say if the driver will face charges. The woman was a rel­a­tive of a res­i­dent on the street, po­lice said. Sym­bol of a cause

Ro­driguez, 50, had chan­neled her grief and sor­row over his daugh­ter’s slay­ing to be­come per­haps the most vis­i­ble ad­vo­cate for MS-13 vic­tims, earn­ing a seat in the gallery at the State of the Union ad­dress and a recog­ni­tion by Trump dur­ing his speech.

“Many of th­ese gang mem­bers took ad­van­tage of glar­ing loop­holes in our laws to en­ter the coun­try as unac­com­pa­nied alien mi­nors and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” the pres­i­dent said as the girls’ par­ents wiped away tears. They rose for a stand­ing ova­tion.

Dozens of slay­ings on Long Is­land since 2013 have rocked com­mu­ni­ties there and trans­formed the de­bate over im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. Trump has used bru­tal killings such as Kayla’s to raise the specter of the transna­tional gang as an ex­is­ten­tial threat, and he has ar­gued for tougher im­mi­gra­tion laws in re­sponse.

Data has shown im­mi­grants com­mit crimes at lower rates than U.S.-born cit­i­zens.

Trump on Fri­day evening noted Ro­driguez’s death.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Eve­lyn Ro­driguez this evening, along with her fam­ily and friends,” he wrote on Twit­ter.

Ro­driguez sued Kayla’s high school for $110 mil­lion, say­ing her daugh­ter had been bul­lied and ac­costed there by an alleged gang mem­ber who Ro­driguez said still at­tended the school, even af­ter she com­plained to ad­min­is­tra­tors.

“She used to tell me, ‘Ma, they are tak­ing over the school. It’s like they’re ev­ery­where,’ ” Ro­driguez said.

Af­ter a con­fronta­tion at Brent­wood, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors say, MS-13 put a “green light” — or kill or­der — on Kayla, and mem­bers made a “throat slic­ing ges­ture” to­ward her at school, the law­suit says.

A week later, she was walk­ing home one evening with Nisa, a bas­ket­ball team­mate one day shy of her 16th birth­day, when MS-13 mem­bers spot­ted them and at­tacked with a ma­chete and base­ball bats, say pros­e­cu­tors. ‘New breed of mur­der­ers’

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors be­lieve thou­sands of pri­mar­ily Cen­tral Amer­i­can im­mi­grants are mem­bers of MS-13, or the Mara Sal­va­trucha, across the United States. It be­gan as a street gang in Los An­ge­les in the 1980s.

Four mem­bers were charged in con­nec­tion with Kayla’s and Nisa’s slay­ings, pros­e­cu­tors said in March 2017. They were ap­pre­hended as part of a wider drag­net of 13 mem­bers charged in seven mur­der cases, among other charges. Con­vic­tions could lead to the death penalty.

Ro­driguez, who ap­peared with Trump in a round­table dis­cus­sion on im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy in May, told law­mak­ers last year that par­ents feared see­ing their chil­dren play­ing out­side with other chil­dren.

“The MS-13 gang is so un­pre­dictable you just don’t know who is who with them,” Ro­driguez said. “MS-13 is a new breed of mur­der­ers, they are chil­dren, kids killing kids.”

Heather Walsh / New York Times

Eve­lyn Ro­driguez be­came a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for vic­tims of gang vi­o­lence af­ter her 16-year-old daugh­ter, Kayla, was slain. Kayla’s fa­ther, Manny Cuevas, is with Ro­driguez.

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