Three men arrested for allegedly stabbing a Huntington High School student last week are known MS-13 gang members, who entered the country illegally and are Huntington High School students, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D).
Ramon Arevalo Lopez, 19; Oscar Canales Molina, 17; and Nobeli Montes Zuniga, 20, were arrested by Suffolk County police Jan. 9 shortly after a 16-year-old male was stabbed during a large fight behind Burger King, located on New York Avenue in Huntington Station. Each of the defendants is charged with one count of second-degree assault, a class D felony.
“While it is unclear what the groups were fighting about, one thing is clear: everyone arrested are confirmed members of MS-13.”
— Geraldine Hart
“While it is unclear what the groups were fighting about, one thing is clear: everyone arrested are confirmed members of MS-13,” Geraldine Hart, Suffolk County police commissioner said. “This incident is a reminder of the gang’s violent ways.”
Suffolk county police officers responded to a 911 call reporting a large fight involving approximately 15 high school-aged students in the rear parking lot of Burger King at approximately 2:30 p.m.
Sini said a group of Huntington High School students went to the fast-food restaurant after school let out and saw six Hispanic males staring at them in a ‘menacing way.’ The teens reportedly felt uncomfortable and left the store but were followed by the group of men that included the defendants. The group allegedly charged and attacked the students while wielding bats and knives, according to Sini, stabbing one teen through the back and injuring a second individual.
The 16-year-old male, whose identity was not released by police, was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
Witnesses reported allegedly seeing the three defendants fleeing the scene in a black 2007 Toyota Scion with a large rear spoiler. Officers Guido, Indelicato and Rodriguez located a matching vehicle nearby shortly afterwards, according to Hart, that contained Lopez, Canales Molina and Zuniga.
The three defendants had blood on their clothing and hands, as well as the vehicle, according to police. Sini said Arevalo Lopez made an admission to the arresting officers that he stabbed the teen, while Canales Molina and Montes Zuniga both allegedly admitted to police they were involved in the fight. Canales Molina had two knives on him at the time of his arrest, including a small one covered in blood found concealed in his boot, according the district attorney. Each of the three defendants have been previously confirmed as MS-13 members by Suffolk County Police Department, according to Sini, and had records in the county’s gang database.
“Just because [Lopez]’s been ‘confirmed’ as a member in an ill-conceived Suffolk County Police Department database isn’t proof of anything. He is innocent of the charges that have been leveled against him.”
“What we know about MS-13 is that they use violence to — in their minds — ensure that they are given respect,” he said. “Certainly, this type of incident fits within the modus operandi of MS-13, which is essentially random and seemingly senseless acts of violence.
Lopez’s attorney, Jason Bassett of Hauppauge, strongly refuted all charges and district attorney’s allegations that his client is or has been involved in gang activity.
“[Lopez] is not an MS-13 gang member,” Bassett said. “Just because he’s been ‘confirmed’ as a member in an ill-conceived Suffolk County Police Department database isn’t proof of anything. He is innocent of the charges that have been leveled against him.”
Montes Zuniga’s defense attorney, Norley Castañeda, declined to give any statement regarding the incident or his possible gang affiliation. Canales Molina’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
All three defendants were arraigned Jan. 10 in Central Islip court before Suffolk County Judge Gaetan Lozito who set bai for each at $35,000 cash or $75,000 bond. No one had posted bail as of Jan. 15.
The incident occurred two days after hundreds of concerned citizens attended Huntington school district’s board of education meeting to address concerns about a New York Times Magazine piece that chronicled the story of an immigrant teen, Alex, who was accused of being associated with MS-13 in some part based on his interactions with the school resource officer and, as a result, deported in July 2018.
Sini said all three defendants are currently enrolled as students at Huntington High School after having allegedly entered the country illegally. The district attorney said his records show Canales Molina was detained by U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement in July 2017 and released from custody by a federal judge in November 2017. Similarly, Lopez was detained by ICE in October 2017, and was released from custody by a federal judge in June 2018.
“Even though we’ve had a lot of success the last couple of years in combating MS-13, it’s important that we remain vigilant.”
— Tim Sini
Huntington Superintendent James Polansky requested additional police presence at the high school the day following the stabbing, according to the police commissioner, and additional officers and resources will be provided as necessary.
Despite this incident and recent media attention, Sini said he remains optimistic about the county’s efforts to crackdown on MS-13 is paying off.
“That’s why you see historic crime reduction in Suffolk County, that’s why you see MS-13 incidents are down significantly when compared to 2015-16,” the district attorney said. “Even though we’ve had a lot of success the last couple of years in combating MS-13, it’s important that we remain vigilant.”
The police investigation into the incident is ongoing and there is the possibility of additional charges being added, according to Sini. The case is being prosecuted by the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau’s Gang Unit.