After NY Teen’s Murder, School Faces Blame for Gang Violence

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) – Saying her teenage daughter was “brutally mutilated and murdered” by members of MS-13, a Long Island mother claims in a federal complaint that school officials let gang bullying turn fatal.

Represented by attorney Javier Solano, Evelyn Rodriguez filed her suit on Dec. 11 with a federal judge in Central Islip.

Just over a year ago in September 2016, the badly beaten body of Rodriguez’s 16-year-old daughter, Kayla Cuevas, was found in the backyard of a home in Brentwood, a Latino-majority hamlet about 50 miles east of Manhattan known as “The Jewel of Long Island.”

Prosecutors say Cuevas and her lifelong friend, Nisa Mickens, were killed by four men in the Mara Salvatrucha, a Salvadoran street gang otherwise known as MS-13.

The four accused killers were indicted this past March but have pleaded not guilty.

In her complaint against the Brentwood Union Free School District, Rodriguez says officials knew for years that her daughter was the victim of “continuous and ongoing bullying” by MS-13 members on school grounds. Multiple news outlets have reported Cuevas “feuded” with gang members on social media.

Felix Adeyeye, a spokesman for the district, declined to comment on Rodriguez’s lawsuit as the case is pending.

According to the complaint, Cuevas had faced multiple instances of gang “intimidation” beginning in September 2014. In addition to having her pants pulled down in the middle of a hallway, Cuevas was allegedly called names, taunted and threatened. The bullying also included spitting and hand gestures.

Rodriguez says the school district did nothing to intervene.

Things escalated in the summer 2015. Rodriguez says a student and “known” member of MS-13 threatened Cuevas with a knife at summer school. Despite assurances from Brentwood school staff that the student would not return for the 2016 school year, Rodriguez says Cuevas saw him on school grounds the first day of classes, Sept. 7.

The district denied that he could have been there, according to the complaint.

Rodriguez says that same student and others made “throat-slicing” gestures toward Cuevas the next day, which meant Cuevas was “marked for death.”

These gestures were allegedly caught on surveillance footage, but Rodriguez says school authorities denied that any such gesture occurred when they made a report.

Cuevas was killed about a week later, on Sept. 13, 2016.

“She was ultimately chased off school grounds and brutally mutilated and murdered,” the complaint states.

About a month after the indictment of the men suspected of killing Cuevas, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an appearance in Central Islip to rail against gang violence.

Central Islip Schools Superintendent Howard Koenig was quoted in news reports two months later, however, as saying that the budget proposed by President Donald Trump would exacerbate MS-13’s impact on his district.

The deep cuts Trump has proposed to public school programs would hack extracurricular activities that could help keep at-risk youth out of gangs, Koenig said.

Rodriguez’s attorney Solano has not returned a phone call seeking comment.

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