There hasn’t been a dry eye on the corner of 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue since the tragic death of 15-year-old Lesandro ‘Junior’ Guzman-Feliz on Wednesday, June 20.
A memorial that started with several candles and posters in front of Zesarina Grocery, at 526 E. 183rd Street, has rapidly grown into a shrine in less than a week.
Thousands have come from all over lighting candles, leaving hand written messages and much more to honor the innocent teenager that was savagely murdered.
“We all love you, we never met, God bless your family and friends,” one message read.
A couple came from northern New Jersey on Monday, June 25 as soon as they heard the news.
Others came from all around the borough to the memorial. “I have a 15-year-old son that looks like Junior, what if that was my kid they got?” One father yelled in grief.
While the outcry for ‘Justice for Junior’ has reached a national level, Junior’s family and friends are in a state of utter disbelief the past few days.
Three girls that were friends with Junior broke down hysterically in front of the bodega on Monday.
“The last thing he said to me was ‘when are we going to hang again it’s been forever since I’ve seen you,’” said one of the girls.
Brianna Schaar taught Junior’s tenth grade English class this year at Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health & Science Charter School.
“Lesandro was such a great and genuine kid with such a good heart,” Schaar said.
She also mentioned how he struggled in English class but was the most improved by the end of the academic year.
“He saw a book on my desk one time and told me ‘I love books but they’re hard to read,’” she added.
Schaar also mentioned how he brought her and a colleague red roses on Valentine’s Day, calling the boy a true gentleman.
The last time that Junior and Schaar spoke was before school ended, when he told her that his family was looking into moving to Florida and how excited he was to visit Miami.
Right now his intermediate school is looking for a fitting way to remember the young man properly. One idea bounced around was a scholarship fund in his honor.
Junior’s dream was to become an NYPD detective since the age of five; he was a member of the NYPD Explorers in the 45th Precinct, growing up and living a life avoiding trouble.
Unfortunately when trouble found Junior, many bystanders failed to act in even the smallest way, to stop the brutal attack.
Surveillance video shows Junior running into a bodega, attempting to hide behind the counter, when he is pushed away by the owner, as the gang members come into the store, dragging him out in front a group of customers, who watch the travesty unfold.
As he’s pulled out of the store, he grasps a doorframe for dear life. A man and woman can be seen in medical scrubs on the street who chose to keep walking rather than help.
After the senseless knife and machete attack, Junior runs back in the store where the people there advise him to seek medical attention at St. Barnabas Hospital, a block away. Mortally wounded he collapses, and dies before he can get help.
Similar to Kitty Genovese, half a dozen bystanders did nothing to help the innocent boy.
Some neighbors witnessed the attack outside from their apartments above.
“We heard ‘Open up! They’re going to murder me!’ and by the time we saw from our window it was all over. The entire attack was less than ten seconds,” one neighbor said.
Councilmembers Ritchie Torres, Vanessa Gibson and Rafael Salamanca, Jr. were so repulsed with the apathetic bodega workers that they called for the Zesarina Grocery to have its business license revoked.
In a written letter to the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, the trio expressed “An owner who stands by idly while a 15-year old is dragged out of his store and murdered in cold blood with a machete is no longer worthy of doing business in NYC.” An online petition with 39,000 signatures also calls for the revocation of the bodega’s license.
Police believe that the attack on Junior was a case of mistaken identity. Higher-ups in the gang that is being blamed for the horrendous attack have taken to social media claiming the attack wasn’t meant for Guzman-Feliz and even went to the extent of expressing condolences to his family.
The NYPD was flooded with tips in the hours and days following the killing to the point that police had to add extra staff to monitor the tip-line.
This public outcry has led to the arrest of eight gang members believed to have been involved in Junior’s murder.
“At the end of the day it’s about making sure justice is done. You can’t just say it, this has to been seen through [to the end],” said community advocate Tony Herbert during an organized walk from the bodega to where Junior collapsed. “They cannot set a light bail and let these people back on the streets to do it all over again.”