Justice for Junior bodega becomes first ‘safe haven’

Justice for Junior bodega becomes first ‘safe haven’
Schneps Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell

It might not entirely be Justice for Junior, but it is a step in the right direction.

The notorious bodega that 15-year-old Lesandro ‘Junior’ Guzman-Feliz was brutally murdered outside of at the corner of East 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue became the first ‘safe bodega’ in the Bronx and the city on Wednesday, January 23.

Working collaboratively with the NYPD, the United Bodegas of America designed a multi-step program that would equip bodegas with panic buttons, shatterproof glass and other measures that could prevent an attack from continuing and essentially save an innocent life.

Each installation costs between three and four thousand dollars.

This safe haven bodega concept comes from criticism after surveillance video had shown Junior run into the store, attempting to hide from the gang members behind its counter space, only to be dragged out of the store to his untimely death on Wednesday, June 20.

One feature that the safe haven bodega program offers is that it gives the NYPD the ability to monitor its security cameras in real time.

Just weeks ago, the DA’s office began introducing a similar surveillance camera intranet program to expand its presence on Bronx streets, taking much inspiration from Junior’s tragedy.

Senator Luis Sepulveda also spoke outside of the bodega on Tuesday, July 10, announcing his proposed ‘Junior’s Law’, which reflects the safe haven concept that was recently enacted.

Elected officials aren’t the only individuals that wanted to see a safe haven program come to fruition, though.

Junior’s father, Lisandro Guzman spoke highly of Sepulveda’s proposed bill, saying “I hope this bill that carries my son’s name gets passed so it can prevent situations like this from happening again.”

On the two-month anniversary of Junior’s death, his mother Leandra Feliz and many more returned to that cursed corner, reflecting on her son’s life and calling for a safe haven to be created in the neighborhood.

“I still can’t believe what happened, it still doesn’t feel real to me,” said Junior’s mother. “There’s been so much to process with this that I simply haven’t yet,” the grieving mother added.

Leandra went on to share the final memories that her and Junior had shared, which came just moments before the gruesome attack.

“He called me right before, he said he was running downstairs to give a friend five dollars, but he was taking too long so I called him back and the last thing he said to me was “I’m coming back now mommy,” that was the last thing that my son ever said to me,” she said.

Just about every day now, she goes to her son’s final resting place in St. Raymond’s Cemetery to reflect on Junior’s life and the years of memories that the mother and son had shared.

While the bodega has changed ownership and management since the tragedy, the grieving mother continues to feel the pain that the events of that day have permanently etched into her memory.

“This is a corner of death, I’ve lived in this area for 17 years and this is a troubled intersection, we need a safe haven,” Leandra said.