MS-13 Victim's Mom, Killed At Memorial Site, Never Said 'Why Me?'

BRENTWOOD, NY — It’s been three days since the grieving mother of a teen authorities say was brutally murdered by the deadly MS-13 street gang died, after being struck by an SUV, just minutes before her beautiful daughter’s memorial service in Brentwood.

Three days, and hearts and minds are still struggling to comprehend the magnitude of the tragedy — the nightmare surrounding the loss of Evelyn Rodriguez, 50, who, since losing her daughter, Kayla Cuevas, 16, has devoted her life to eradicating the scourge of MS-13. Kayla, along with 15-year old Nisa Mickens, died exactly two years ago.

Evelyn Rodriguez died Friday after being struck by an SUV before the planned memorial service for her daughter in Brentwood.

According to Suffolk Police, Rodriguez was involved in a dispute on Ray Court, near Stahley Street, with the driver of a 2016 Nissan Rouge regarding the placement of a memorial dedicated to the teens, who were murdered near the location on Sept. 13, 2016. During the dispute, the driver, who is a relative of a resident of Ray Court, attempted to leave the scene and her SUV struck Rodriguez, police said.

Rodriguez, of Brentwood, was transported to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore where she was pronounced dead. The driver, who remained at the scene and called 911, was not injured.

In video footage aired by News 12, Rodriguez and an unidentified man can be seen confronting a woman in a white SUV seconds before the SUV strikes Rodriguez.

On Monday, Suffolk County Police confirmed that Rodriguez’ death “was not MS-13 related. We have no further information available at this time. The investigation is ongoing.”

No criminal charges were filed.

Speaking to Patch on Monday, Rep. Peter King, who’d been preparing to attend the memorial, described the horror of the news: “It’s almost beyond grief. It’s horrible to think that so much could have happened to one woman. Her daughter was butchered by MS-13 with baseball bats and machetes, and two years later, she’s run over, in the same spot. It’s impossible to believe.”

King, who visited Freddy Cuevas — Rodriguez’ longtime partner and Kayla’s father — Monday, said, “he’s very strong, very articulate. He looks upon it has his job to hold the family together.”

While he was expecting that Cuevas might be inconsolable or “angry at the world,” King said Cuevas was logical and lucid. “Obviously, he’s anguished, but he wants to continue her efforts — to take another tragedy and make something positive out of it.”

The heartbreak of Rodriguez’ death, King said, will give Cuevas a forum, a way to “continue Evelyn’s work.”

Describing the events of Friday as he understands them, King said the memorial had been set up; some property owners in the area “were selling a house and apparently thought the memorial would hurt their opportunity to sell the house. Without talking it over,” the memorial was torn down, King said.

King said Rodriguez and Cuevas, who were seen in the video yelling at the driver in the SUV, were upset because the contents of the memorial, including a photo of Kayla, were in the back of the SUV. “They were trying to get it back,” King said.

Police could not confirm any of the details surrounding the incident other than the information already released.

King has worked closely with Rodriguez during the two years since her daughter’s horrific death. “She was an incredibly warm woman, extremely tough minded and articulate, dedicated. Despite all that happened, she never once felt sorry for herself, she never said, ‘Why me?’ Her goal was that no other parent would have to go through what she had. She’d say, ‘I want the day to come when parents in Brentwood don’t have to wait at the bus stop, when kids can feel safe to walk home from school.’ Right now, parents are scared stiff,” he said.

King said he’d been speaking to Rodriguez all week last week; she’d worked on a campaign commercial for him. In fact, he even spoke to her Friday morning; she’d called to make sure he was going to attend the vigil.

As he was heading out — he wanted to get to the vigil early — King said he got a call from a woman on his staff about the tragedy, but at first, the belief was that Rodriguez might still be alive. “I went racing there and they told me she had died,” King said. “It was absolutely a horrible shock. To be killed at her daughter’s memorial, exactly two years after she was murdered. The whole thing just seems surreal.”

And most heartrending: As he stood at the scene, which was surrounded by yellow police tape, King saw a crowd of people arriving. “I assumed they were coming because of what had happened. I didn’t realize they were coming for the memorial; they didn’t know. A musician asked me what time the memorial was going to start. I said, ‘It’s not.” The whole thing was just so horrible.”

Rodriguez attended President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last January.

And in May, Trump blasted MS-13 gang members at an immigration forum on Long Island, with Rodriguez in attendance.

Trump said, of the deadly street gang he’s called “animals,” that its presence on Long Island and across the country is “a menace.” Trump said he was “moved” to be joined by the parents of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, who suffered “unthinkable heartbreak at the hands of” MS-13 gang members who killed their daughters.

Rodriguez, at that forum said her daughter was “a beautiful girl. She had dreams and they took that away from her. How those kids were murdered, tortured, is unacceptable. You said they were animals. You are correct. They are animals.”

Cuevas agreed. “You used the correct word — animals.”

In a tweet Friday night, Trump wrote, “My thoughts and prayers are with Evelyn Rodriguez this evening, along with her family and friends. #RIPEvelyn”

Rep. Lee Zeldin called Rodriguez’s death a “terribly shocking loss of a national voice and powerful advocate. Evelyn was filled with tremendous strength, passion and commitment to combating a brutal gang here on Long Island and nationally,” Zeldin said in the post on his Facebook page.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini said Rodriguez was able to turn the tragedy of losing her daughter into a mission for good.

“She harvested her grief and used it as a catalyst for positive change on behalf of her community and on behalf of this country,” Sini said. “She was a fierce advocate for her hometown of Brentwood and was fearless in her fight to put an end to the violence caused by MS-13 to ensure that other parents never have to endure the pain she suffered.”

In her honor, Cuevas has promised to carry on that legacy both for his beautiful daughter and for Rodriguez, who died as she lived, fighting to keep her daughter’s memory alive — and to eradicate deadly gang violence — until her last breath.

And now, mother and daughter will be reunited for eternity: According to the New York Post, Rodriguez will be laid to rest Friday in Queen of All Saints Cemetery on Long Island — next to the daughter she cherished.

Main photo of Evelyn Rodriguez provided by the White House

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