At nearly midnight on June 20, Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, 15, lay dying on the step of a security booth outside St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, New York.
He’d run a few blocks to the emergency room in a last effort to save his own life after he was brutally stabbed with knives and a machete, police say, by members of an alleged gang, but he was too weak to make the last few steps inside. Junior took his last breath just outside the hospital. Witnesses said the last thing he asked for was water.
The brutal slaying was captured on numerous cameras in the area and his death stunned New York City, birthing the rally cry “Justice for Junior.”
Police said they believe Junior's murder was a case of a mistaken identity and that the teen didn't have any gang affiliation. In the nine months since his killing, 14 people have been arrested and charged in his death.
On Monday, Judge Robert Neary set an April court date for five of the 14 defendants in the case. The five who will be tried first face first-degree murder charges.
“I need justice for Junior, and I want everybody to come together in supporting me,” Junior’s mom, Leandra Feliz, told PIX 11 outside of a Bronx courtroom on Monday.
A Night Out
On the night of his murder, Junior left his house around 10 p.m. and walked two blocks to give his friend $5, according to The New York Times. Junior was then reportedly hanging out on Adam’s Place around 11 p.m., before his mom called him to come home.
He was on his way home when he encountered several alleged members of the “Los Sures” set of the Dominican “Trinitarios” gang, according to police. Authorities say the gang was allegedly on the lookout for members of the rival "Sunset" group of the same gang.
Sometime after 11 p.m., one of the alleged gang members yelled out “Sunset” at Junior and the teen began running, fearing he was in danger, according to PIX 11. The tragedy that unfolded next was all captured on camera.
Junior ran from the group as they chased him in four cars, and he barreled into the Cruz and Chicky bodega on East 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue, seeking refuge. He desperately lunged over the counter in an attempt to hide and pleaded for the store clerk's help.
That clerk, Modesto Cruz, later said in an interview that he initially didn’t understand what was going on but he did call police.
“I just feel very, very bad,” Cruz told PIX 11. “I do remember his face. He was so scared.”
The group of men chasing Junior were just seconds behind him. Some of the men entered the bodega and dragged him out. The teen clung onto anything he could, including a chip stand and an ATM machine near the door.
The attack outside of the bodega lasted just 20 seconds. Junior was stabbed several times with knives and a machete. He suffered several stab wounds to the torso and a fatal stab wound to his neck. The suspects fled in the same cars they arrived in.
Junior ran back into the bodega, bleeding on the counter and gasping for air.
Then, he used all the energy he had left to make a run for the hospital. A guard outside St. Barnabas saw Junior collapse on the sidewalk and called for help. But it was too late, and Junior was pronounced dead shortly after.
A Hunt for Junior's Killers
Footage of Junior’s death quickly went viral on social media, prompting activists and celebrities alike to call for justice for the 15-year-old.
A giant memorial, with hundreds of candles, pictures and balloons, grew outside of the bodega where the murder took place and was cordoned off by police gates. Thousands visited the site in the weeks following the attack. The hashtag #JusticeforJunior also rapidly spread.
Junior had been part of the NYPD’s explorer’s program, designed to educate kids about law enforcement and teach them essential skills for the field. The NYPD vowed they would leave “no stone unturned” as they worked Junior’s case.
Police began to make good on that promise soon after and started piecing together a story of what happened.
A week later, police already had eight men in custody. Six of them were arrested in Patterson, New Jersey, inside of an alleged “safe house” for the Trinitarios gang, according to reports. Police had reportedly received a tip of their whereabouts.
One of those first suspects arrested was 19-year-old Kevin Alvarez, who turned himself in. The New York Daily News said that he told them he didn’t know the group was going to stab Junior.
“I thought it was just going to be a fight when I came out the store and I turned around and saw the machetes,” Alvarez reportedly said from jail. “I backed up and put my arms up. I yelled at them to stop.”
There is no audio on the surveillance footage captured outside the bodega, but cops say Alvarez is seen in a black cap leaving the frame shortly after Junior is pulled out.
The Daily News quoted Alvarez as saying that he “made a mistake” being there and thought it was going to be fight. He also denied being a member of the Trinitarios gang.
Two weeks later in July, the NYPD announced they had arrested two more suspects, including 29-year-old Diego Suero, the alleged “Los Sures” leader and the one who allegedly organized the “hit” on a member from the rival set.
By September, police had arrested a total of 14 suspects in Junior's killing.
Justice for Junior Begins
According to police, all 14 suspects had gathered at Suero’s house before the murder and then went together in four cars to rival set territory, where they spotted Junior and mistook him for a rival gang member. After the stabbing, they fled back to Suero’s home to hide their weapons, authorities said.
Jonaiki Martinez-Estrella is accused of delivering the fatal knife wound to Junior’s neck and is charged with first- and second-degree murder, along with four other suspects. Suero is charged with second-degree murder, along with eight other suspects. All the suspects have pleaded not guilty.
Five suspects are set to go on trial on April 15.
Neary has placed a gag order on everyone connected to the case, including defense attorneys and prosecutors.
"This was an intragang conflict where the defendants allegedly plotted to attack an upstart set of the Trinitarios and allegedly committed a crime that has shocked people everywhere for its brutality," said Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark at a news conference in July, before the gag order was put in place.
A Lasting Memory
In late February, Junior was honored with a new street name on the corner where he was killed: Lesandro Guzman-Feliz Way. The teen’s parents were also given a copy of the new street sign to take home.
Several members of the NYPD Explorers program were present, as well as City Council Member Ritchie Torres.
"This is all special,” Leandra Feliz said during the ceremony. "I'm so surprised. I wasn't expecting. That's what I said before. God is blessing us and blessing all of you to be here and to do that for me and my son.”
But, for the mother, the pain of what happened to her son still grips her daily.
“When I pass over there I feel my knees shaking from the bottom of my feet,” Leandra Feliz told reporters. “I feel my blood running everywhere and I feel like I am going to faint.”
In July, the mom was overcome with emotion at an indictment hearing for 12 of the defendants, yelling “Asesino!” in the courtroom, the Spanish word for “murderer.”
"They killed my son," Leandra Feliz she said after the hearing. "They killed a baby, not a gang member. They killed a good boy."