Three MS-13 gang members have been arrested in connection with a quadruple murder on Long Island in April. Investigators have long suspected the deadly street gang of being behind the murders because the bodies were found apparently cut by a machete, which is the gang's weapon of choice.
Gang members Alexis Hernandez, Santis Leonel Ortiz-Flores and Omar Antonio Villata are accused of killing four male teenagers who were found in a Central Islip park.
According to the New York Post, the three suspects were arrested on Thursday (13 July) by the FBI's Long Island Gang Task Force.
Each man was charged with one count of murder, Newsday reported. Hernandez pleaded not guilty on Monday (17 July) in federal District Court in Central Islip. It was not immediately clear how the other two men pleaded.
The four victims, who "suffered from significant trauma" throughout their bodies were identified as 16-year-old Justin Llivicura, 18-year-old Jorge Tigre, 18-year-old Jefferson Villalobos and 20-year-old Michael Lopes Benegas.
The family of Tigre claimed that the high school student was targeted by the gang after he attempted to steer clear of his gang member friend. Tigre's mother told reporters that his decision to avoid the gang annoyed members. "They had been harassing him at school," she said. "On Sunday, he told his uncle 'They keep harassing me.'"
MS-13, also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, is believed to behind the murder of two high school girls on Long Island last September. The girls were viciously attacked with a machete and baseball bats as they walked through the neighbouring town of Brentwood.
Eight MS-13 members were arrested on 2 March for the murders of 15-year-old Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas.
The US Attorney's Office says MS-13 boasts 6,000 members across at least 46 states and the District of Columbia. Another 30,000 members operate internationally, specifically in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.