NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Members of the Bronx community gathered on Monday to mourn the death of a teenager brutally slain outside a bodega in the Belmont section last week.
The parents of 15-year-old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz spoke outside his wake as hundreds of people lined up for blocks to pay their respects. Police Commissioner James O’Neill also made an appearance. The teen’s father proudly displayed an hours-old tattoo on his hand, immortalizing his son’s face.
“My heart is breaking, really breaking,” he said.
Family and friends say the savage murder was a tragic case of mistaken identity. On Sunday, a multi-state operation led to eight arrests in connection with the teen’s death.
One of the suspects, identified by police as 19-year-old Kevin Alvarez, appeared before a judge Monday and was formally charged with four counts of second degree murder, manslaughter and gang assault. His attorney says he entered a plea of not guilty.
“We are working diligently to ensure our client’s constitutional rights are protected through this process,” defense attorney Manuel Portel said.
The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office says six others were apprehended in Paterson Sunday afternoon, and one more suspect was arrested in the Bronx. Cheers erupted in front of a makeshift memorial Sunday as word of the arrests spread.
“Thank God they caught him,” his mother, Leandra Feliz said. “They have to pay — what they did to my son. My son was innocent.”
Police said the Lesandro, known as Junior to friends and family, was killed Wednesday when a group of men dragged him out of a bodega on Bathgate Avenue and 183rd Street and then stabbed him in the neck.
The teen was able to run to Saint Barnabas Hospital, where he later died.
Neighbors say the suspects are affiliated with the Trinitarios, a New York-based Dominican gang. One relative who did want to identified said an alleged gang member sent an apology on Snapchat, admitting they thought Junior was someone else at the time of the attack.
“They’re just saying it wasn’t for Junior, it was somebody else but they confused them and they said sorry and they apologize and they send their condolences,” the relative said. “But he’s gone. That doesn’t change anything.”
Police believe the deadly confusion all started with a video showing a teen boy who resembled Junior being intimate with a teen girl then boastfully posting it on social media. Authorities say the teen girl was a cousin of one of the Trinitarios, and the suspects mistakenly thought Lesandro was the boy in the video.
Family members say Junior had dreams of joining the NYPD. He was part of the department’s Explorer program, which provided young people with an introduction to a career in law enforcement.
“That was a young man who wanted to serve the city, be a part of our police force and had such a bright future and now he’s taken from us,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday. “I think for all of us it feels very personal to have lost such an exemplary young man.”
A GoFundMe account titled “Justice for Junior” raised close to $200,000 by Monday afternoon.
The NYPD says although overall crime is down, the murder rate in the precinct where Junior was killed increased this year. So far, there have been eight murders compared to four during the same period last year.
Three of those murders happened in the past month, compared to just one during the same period last year. Murders are also up 6.6 percent citywide year to date.
Community leaders outside the bodega Monday say here aren’t enough resources for youth in the neighborhood and more must be done to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.
“We not only failed Junior, but we failed these young people who believed their only option is to join a group that will force them into this violence,” State Senator Gustavo Rivera (D-33rd) said.
Another wake is scheduled for Tuesday, with funeral services set for Wednesday. Alvarez’s next appearance is set for Friday.