September 21, 2018 04:22 PM
BRENTWOOD, N.Y. (AP) — Tears rushed from beneath Freddy Cuevas' sunglasses as he wrapped his arms around a mourner outside the suburban New York church where his longtime partner, Evelyn Rodriguez, was memorialized Friday as a hero and a warrior for channeling grief over their slain daughter into an anti-gang crusade.
They'd stood together at the same church two years ago for 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas' funeral, and again at the State of the Union in January as President Donald Trump recognized their efforts to eradicate MS-13, the gang suspected of terrorizing their family and Long Island community.
And they were together last week, preparing for a vigil to Kayla, when Rodriguez was struck and killed by an SUV during a heated confrontation with the driver over the placement of a memorial to their daughter.
"She was my warrior, my rock, my queen, my everything in my whole world," Cuevas told mourners at St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood, following a parade of public officials who hailed the 50-year-old Rodriguez's fearlessness and compassion.
Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini said she was "our Batman and Robin" and one of the strongest people he's ever met.
"Her roar was deafening, from the streets of Brentwood to the halls of Congress to the ears of the president himself," Sini said.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul encouraged mourners to continue Rodriguez's crusade and offered a message to MS-13: "You will be stopped. Your evil will be thwarted at every step, because you have lit a fire under this community."
"That will be the enduring legacy of what Evelyn accomplished in the name of Kayla and other victims of gang violence," Hochul said.
Rodriguez was so moved by the suspected gang killing in June of Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz, the 15-year-old Bronx boy who aspired to be a police officer, that she reached out to his mother and attended his wake, Homeland Security Special Agent C.J. Martinez said.
The driver of the SUV that killed Rodriguez wasn't hurt. She remained at the scene and called 911. Police have not released the driver's name - even though doing so is common practice - citing the ongoing investigation.
Rodriguez's friend, Liz Cordero, said the driver should be charged with a crime.
Rodriguez and another person were seen standing in the street and yelling at the driver of the SUV before the vehicle sped forward and struck her.
"This was no accident, Cordero said. "This was murder."
Cuevas and her friend, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens, were walking when police say they were ambushed by MS-13 gang members. Mickens' body was found a few hundred feet away near an elementary school.
"It's maddening and saddening to know we're back here again two years later," said County Legislator Monica Martinez, who taught Cuevas in the sixth grade and remained close with the family.
Rodriguez spoke out against the gang and the local school district after Cuevas and Mickens were attacked with machetes and baseball bats.
The girls' alleged killers, who were arrested along with about a dozen other suspected MS-13 members, are facing murder charges that could result in the death penalty.
Rodriguez stood with Cuevas' father, Freddy Cuevas, and Mickens' parents at the State of the Union in January and sat alongside Trump and U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y, at a gang violence forum in May on Long Island.
Rodriguez filed a $110 million lawsuit last December against the Brentwood School District, claiming it ignored warnings that MS-13 members were threatening her daughter. Rodriguez said that employees failed to act when told that the girl was being threatened. The lawsuit says the bullying went on for two years before the teenager was killed.
MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha, is blamed for dozens of killings on Long Island since 2016. Trump has blamed the violence on lax immigration policies.
By MICHAEL R. SISAK
Updated: September 21, 2018 04:22 PM
Created: September 21, 2018 04:17 PM
(Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)