Why MS-13 gang member lured Long Island teens to their deaths: prosecutors

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The four victims slain in an infamous MS-13 gang ambush were “just high school kids” who were “trying to look tough” by flashing gang signs, the feds said at Monday’s trial of a female Long Island suspect called “Little Devil.”

Defendant Leniz “Diablita” Escobar, 22, allegedly tipped off the notoriously vicious gang to the victims’ perceived “deep sign of disrespect” — and lured the young men to their deaths, all in a bid to curry favor with the killers, said Assistant US Attorney Megan Farrell during opening statements in Central Islip.

“As they were killed, [the victims] wailed in pain and filled the park with their terrified screams,” the prosecutor said.

The sole survivor of the 2017 massacre — identified by prosecutors only as “Alex” — was taking the stand Monday.

“Alex was not in the gang,” Farrell said. “He was not in MS-13, but he did post pictures of him and his friends holding up the signs and posing like members of MS-13.

Leniz Escobar allegedly lured four Long Island high school students to their death in order to gain favor with the MS-13 gang, according to prosecutors at her trial.
Leniz Escobar allegedly lured four Long Island high school students to their deaths in order to gain favor with the MS-13 gang, according to prosecutors at her trial.
United States Attorney’s Office

“They were just high school kids,” she said. “They were trying to look tough and get attention. The members of MS-13 saw these pictures on social media and saw these pictures as a deep sign of disrespect, enough to justify death.

“The MS-13 crew came out from the darkness, screaming orders that they were all to get down on the ground,” she said. “The defendant pretended to be one of the victims and got down. The real victims took off running, but Alex was the only one fast enough to escape. The other four were hacked to death.”

Escobar is facing murder, racketeering and conspiracy charges in the April 11, 2017, attack at a Central Islip park, where the victims’ mangled bodies were later found.

The victims of the MS-13 attack (from left) Justin Llivicura, Jefferson Villalobos, Michael Lopez Banega, and Jorge Tigre.
MS-13 attack victims (from left) Justin Llivicura, Jefferson Villalobos, Michael Lopez Banega and Jorge Tigre.

Killed in the carnage were Michael Lopez, 20, Justin Llivicura, 16, Jorge Tigre, 18, and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, according to police.

In court, Escobar wore skintight black pants, a black shirt and a white-and-black jacket with a herringbone pattern.

“Big day,” she was overheard telling her lawyers at one point.

Police at the scene the murders in Central Islip, New York on April 13, 2017.
Police at the scene of the murders in Central Islip, New York, on April 13, 2017.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The funeral of victim Justin Llivicura in  East Patchogue on April 19, 2017.
The funeral of victim Justin Llivicura in East Patchogue on April 19, 2017.
AP Photo/Frank Eltman, File

Farrell said Escobar “bragged about her important role in the murders” the next day and told her boyfriend one victim escaped.

“The day after the murders, she told her boyfriend that four trains had left but one had gotten away,” Farrell said.

Escobar told her boyfriend “she did it to be happy, so that she could be happy,” the prosecutor said.

Farrell said Escobar lied to police and tried to destroy evidence by hurling her mobile phone out of a moving car when police were tailing her.

Family and friends of Escobar at the trial in Federal Court in Central Islip.
Family and friends of Escobar at the trial in federal court in Central Islip on March 21, 2022.
Dennis A. Clark

Alex, who showed up at the local police station with distraught relatives of the victims to report them missing, later led authorities to the bloody scene.

“[The victims] were dragged,” Nassau County Detective Donal Britton testified Monday. “Their shirts had been pulled up around their necks. They were lying on top of each other. There was a lot of blood. Yes, they were deceased.”

Relatives of the victims wailed in court when a photo of the slay scene was shown.

According to prosecutors, the victims were not in a gang and were only "trying to look tough."
According to prosecutors, the victims were not in a gang and were only “trying to look tough.”
Dennis A. Clark
Only one victim survived the attack in Long Island.
Only one victim survived the attack in Long Island.
Dennis A. Clark

Defense lawyer Keith White said during his opening statements that his client did not know the victims would be attacked.

“Leniz didn’t know many of the attackers or that these men would be killed,” White said.

He said Escobar’s companion, who allegedly helped lead the men to their deaths, as well as two of the accused attackers had cut deals with prosecutors to testify in exchange for more lenient sentences.

Escobar’s trial is expected to last three to four weeks.

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