Central Islip, New York - The bodies of four men, all described as having suffered "significant trauma," were discovered in a park in a suburban New York neighborhood that has for years contended with a growing problem of gang violence.
The victims, who were not immediately identified, were found in a wooded area near a recreation center in Central Islip, east of New York City. Crime scene investigators and detectives were scouring the woods for evidence on the edge of a complex of soccer and football fields and a children's playground.
Justin Meyers, assistant to the Suffolk County police commissioner, said Thursday that the killings all appeared to be "recent homicides."
The discovery of the bodies comes about a month after the arrest of eight MS-13 gang members in connection with the September killings of two teenage girls in nearby Brentwood.
Meyers declined to comment on whether the killings of the four men were gang-related.
Gang violence has been a problem in Central Islip, Brentwood and other Long Island communities for more than a decade, but Suffolk County police and the FBI began pouring resources into a crackdown after the killings of the girls, along with two other Brentwood High School students involved in separate killings, sparked outrage. Brentwood and Central Islip are neighboring communities comprised of large populations of working class Hispanic and other minorities, located about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) apart.
Prosecutors said Kayla Cuevas, 16, was targeted last summer by a group of four gang members, including two juveniles, because she had been feuding with MS-13 members at school and on social media. The posse, which had been roving in a car looking for gang enemies, attacked when they came across her walking with Nisa Mickens, 15, in the street. The inseparable best friends were attacked with a machete and baseball bats, officials said.
Nisa "was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with her childhood friend," former U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in announcing the arrests. The site where the bodies were found is just blocks away from the federal courthouse where the alleged killers are being prosecuted.
The MS-13 gang, also called Mara Salvatrucha, is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador. It grew after some members were deported to El Salvador, helping to turn that country into one of the most violent places in the world. It's now a major international criminal enterprise with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states.
Last December, President Donald Trump referenced the slayings in Brentwood during a profile for his Time magazine Person of the Year award.
One of the Republican president's priorities is a crackdown on immigrants who are in the country illegally and have committed crimes. He promised as much in a Time interview, referencing a Newsday story about the killings.
"They come from Central America. They're tougher than any people you've ever met," he said. "They're killing and raping everybody out there. They're illegal. And they are finished."