NEW YORK — A sea of NYPD uniforms and Yankees jerseys crowded into a Bronx church Wednesday morning to lay to rest the teenager killed in a brutal gang stabbing last week.
“We come together as a community,” Father Jonathan Morris of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church told the crowd, “to say no to the violence, to the gang life, and to all evil that is at the root of the death — the innocent death — of Junior Guzman-Feliz.”
The funeral came a week after Guzman-Feliz, 15, was dragged from a store by a group of men, repeatedly stabbed on the sidewalk and left to die in a brutal murder that has sparked widespread outrage in the city and beyond.
“The senseless nature of this horrific tragedy hit all of our communities, in every #NYC neighborhood, very hard,” New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said on Twitter.
After the service, crowds gathered outside the church chanted “Justice for Junior,” the phrase and hashtag that has become a rallying cry in the wake of the young man’s death.
A large group of NYPD members also attended to honor Guzman-Feliz. The teenager was a member of the NYPD Explorers, a police program for young people interested in a career in law enforcement.
The incident began when a group of men surrounded the Bronx teenager at a bodega on East 183rd Street last Wednesday night, according to surveillance video of the incident released to CNN affiliate WPIX.
The suspects grabbed the teen and dragged him along the ground out of the store before fatally stabbing him, the video shows. When the suspects fled, Guzman-Feliz ran to nearby Saint Barnabas Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the NYPD said.
“The stabbing murder of this young man is among the most brutal crimes I’ve seen in my 36yr career,” New York police Chief of Department Terence Monahan said on Twitter, asking for tips on the killing.
As outrage grew this week over the teen’s killing, Guzman-Feliz’s face has appeared on the front of the New York Post for three days straight, and celebrities such as Cardi B and Rihanna have joined local New York leaders in the public mourning.
A possible case of mistaken identity
A police source with direct knowledge of the case told CNN that the killers appeared to have mistaken Guzman-Feliz for someone else.
Eight men have been arrested for his murder so far, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot F. Shea said Tuesday.
The suspects appear to be members of the Trinitarios street gang, he said. Trinitarios is the largest Dominican gang in the United States and is primarily based in New York and New Jersey, according to the FBI.
“We will not tolerate thugs on the streets of the Bronx, whether it’s Trinitarios or any other gang involved in behavior of this sort,” Shea said.
The source told CNN that the Trinitarios gang admitted on social media they attacked the wrong person. The source said New York police don’t know at this time why Guzman-Feliz was targeted.
Kevin Alvarez, 19, was arrested and charged Sunday with second-degree murder, manslaughter, gang assault and assault. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was held without bail at his arraignment Monday, a Bronx court official said.
Alvarez is also associated with the Trinitarios, the law enforcement source told CNN.
Alvarez’s attorney, Manuel Portela, asked the public to wait for the justice process to take its course.
“Our role here is to ensure that his constitutional rights are protected throughout the process,” Portela said. “My client’s family’s hearts go out to the parents and the family of the victim.”
Six other men between 18 and 24 were arrested Sunday in Paterson, New Jersey, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office said. The suspects waived extradition in court on Tuesday and so will be extradited to New York to face the same charges as Alvarez, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark said.
An eighth defendant was also arrested in the Bronx and is due to be arraigned on those same charges later on Tuesday, Clark said.
Guzman-Feliz’s mother praised the arrests but said they were not enough.
“It’s good because they have to pay, but I want my son back,” Leandra Feliz, the teenager’s mother, told CNN affiliate WCBS. “If they could give me the life of my son, I’d be happy.”
Police said that Guzman-Feliz was also a member of the New York Police Department’s Explorers program, which gives young adults an introduction to a career in law enforcement, and dreamed of one day joining the NYPD.
“He was never going to give up on his dream of being an NYPD detective & WE’LL NEVER GIVE UP ON HIM,” Shea said on Twitter.
Several police officials mourned Guzman-Feliz’s death and posted tributes to him.
The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association posted a tribute to the slain teen on Twitter, saying his “dream of joining the NYPD was cut short by a murderous street gang.” The police union said it will “carry on in his memory, until the streets are safe” for all New Yorkers.
A GoFundMe page started in his honor has raised more than $200,000 in five days. Donors from all 50 states and 34 countries have contributed, according to GoFundMe spokeswoman Kate Cichy.
Rapper Cardi B, a Bronx native, contributed $8,000 under her legal name, Belcalis Almanzar.
She posted a message on Instagram lamenting the teen’s death.
“#JusticeForJunior” she wrote. “These Bronx streets are ruthless.”
Singer Rihanna, who has more than 63 million followers on Instagram, posted a photo of Guzman-Feliz with the message “can’t stop thinking about this poor baby boy, and how his family must feel right now!”