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#JusticeForJunior Leads to Community Unity Amid Violent Death of Lesandro “Junior” Felíz-Guzmán

News, Notis, NoticiasNelson SantanaComment
 Memorial dedicated to Lesandro "Junior" Felíz-Guzmán in front of the Zesarina bodega where the teenager was brutally murdered/Photo: ESENDOM. 

Memorial dedicated to Lesandro "Junior" Felíz-Guzmán in front of the Zesarina bodega where the teenager was brutally murdered/Photo: ESENDOM. 

By Nelson Santana
June 26, 2018

The Bronx community came together to get justice for 15-year-old Lesandro “Junior” Felíz-Guzmán. On Wednesday, June 20, at approximately 11:35 p.m. Junior was viciously attacked inside the Zesarina (also known as Cruz and Chiky Store) bodega located at East 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue in the Bronx and then stabbed to death by five alleged gang members.  

Bronx residents, fellow New Yorkers, and celebrities alike have worked in unison to bring justice for the slain teenager, who was stabbed multiple times and died before making it to Saint Barnabus Hospital.

Zesarina Grocery, we don’t want you in our community. You R A COWARD.

Perhaps, most heartbreaking are the details that emerged: two older individuals entered the grocery store and dragged the minor outside. Even worse, several grown individuals, including employees of the bodega, refused to intervene, allowing the two aggressors to drag Junior outside where another three alleged gang members joined them to punch and stab the minor. 

Ironic is that the same tool that led to Junior’s death is also the same tool that helped to capture some of the suspected killers. The five murderers killed Junior believing that he was the person who exposed a young woman who engaged in a sexual encounter with multiple individuals. Unlike that video, different video footage of Junior’s attack recorded from different angles and devices have been widely distributed via social media. In addition to the videos, photos of the perpetrators have been shared on several social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Due to this social media sharing, tips have led to information on the suspected murderers, and in the case of some, their capture. Since Saturday night, several arrests have been made, including that of 19-year-old Kevin Alvarez, who was apprehended on Saturday. Alvarez faces multiple charges including manslaughter and second-degree murder. According to NJ.com, another six men were arrested: José Muñiz, Joniki Martínez, Danel Fernández, Santiago Rodríguez, Manuel Rivera, and José Taverez. 

Some have argued that Junior’s mother, Leandra Felíz, is irresponsible for sending her son out late at night to lend $5 to a neighbor. However, the harsh reality is that millions of New Yorkers are poverty-stricken. According to the New York State Community Action Association, in a 2012 study, 29.5% or 397,842 Bronx residents lived in poverty. However, other sources such as The Furman Center claim that more than 50 percent of Bronx residents live in high or extreme poverty. Hence, Junior’s death is part of a larger systemic problem which reveals the neglect of city officials in relation to the people they represent.

Celebrities Show Love

Social media has played a critical role in Junior’s attack and the aftermath. Parents, brothers, sisters, including people who knew Junior and strangers alike have bonded over his violent death. Some celebrities like Cardi B have shared their thoughts and prayers. However, the involvement of some celebrities has been met with backlash. A few people on Instagram called-out Cardi B claiming that the artist made the post to garner attention, although the artist's actions reveal that she has been genuine every step of the way. According to the Daily Mail, Cardi B put her money where her mouth is by donating $8,000 to Junior’s family. According to the victim’s sister, Genesis Collado-Felíz, Cardi B is partly responsible for sparking donations to the GoFundMe page, Justice for Junior, which as of Tuesday morning had raised $244,041. The original fundraising goal was $15,000. 

Other celebrities including singer Rhianna and New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia shared  their thoughts and sent prayers to Junior’s family. Sabathia wrote: “It hurts me every time I see a story like this in the news. I’m a father of four and couldn’t imagine losing any one of my own kids. The violence and hate needs to stop. There’s too much other stuff already going on in this world. #JusticeForJunior.” Similar to Sabathia, many others used the hashtag #JusticeForJunior.

Zesarina (also known as Cruz and Chiky Store), the bodega where Junior was attacked, has turned into a memorial. People have spent the days and nights since the murder paying homage to Junior by laying candles, flowers, stuffed teddy bears, and leaving messages of encouragement at the storefront.

Not all messages are directed toward Junior, however. Many in the community are angry at the bodega employees for not intervening in the attack. One message states: “Zesarina Grocery, we don’t want you in our community. You R A COWARD.” Another sign asks to “Shut it down!!,” referring to the bodega. New video footage shows how store employees did not hide aid Junior after he jumped the counter and many in the community are outraged by the employees' actions. Some are demanding that the bodegueros face charges as well. 

According to the family, Junior dreamed of one day becoming a detective. Up until the day of his death, Junior participated in Explorers, a program that provides youth with an interest in law enforcement or related field with an introduction into the justice system.

What are ya gonna do? I’m from down the block. Kids keep dying over here. Ya not doing no activities at the park. Ya got a huge budget. Spend that money on the kids, man. They here getting killed. How long ya gonna allow this?
— Scott La Rock Jr.

On Monday afternoon, elected officials including Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr., Council member Carmen de la Rosa, and Congressman Adriano Espaillat appeared at the memorial. Unlike low-key celebrities, like NBA basketball star Carmelo Anthony and his wife, actress La La, most politicians attended the memorial for the right photo opportunity in the middle of the day rather than during night time the week prior. The photo op did not turn out to be the well-coordinated attempt that the elected officials wanted, as it was met with resistance from local residents who believe that the elected officials have neglected their community.

One particular man, Scott La Rock Jr (Instagram: scottlarockjrFollow), confronted Díaz, telling him: “What are ya gonna do? I'm from down the block. Kids keep dying over here. Ya not doing no activities at the park. Ya got a huge budget. Spend that money on the kids, man. They here getting killed. How long ya gonna allow this? ” It is difficult not to agree with such community members given that elections are looming and the tragedy presents a photo op for them. 

A man who lost his son in a shooting last year was also at hand. Unfortunately, ESENDOM was unable to interview him because the words just would not come out of his mouth due to the grief. 

Thus far, law enforcement officials have acted swiftly to bring a level of closure to Junior’s family. Nonetheless, the two known factors can be attributed to this are 1) the substantial evidence that exists pertinent to the horrible crime and 2) Junior’s involvement in the Explorers program within the NYPD. 

Although some suspects are in custody, not all have been apprehended. Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-8477. Para español, favor de llamar al 1-888-577-4782. Information can also be shared via text to 274637.