A grieving mother who became a national voice fighting against street gangs after her daughter was brutally murdered by MS-13 gang members, was killed Friday, two years to the day of her daughter’s death and in almost the exact same area of Long Island where 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas was found beaten and hacked with machetes.
But police say the mother, Evelyn Rodriguez, was not killed as a result of the gang violence that she so tirelessly advocated to stop after her daughter’s death. Instead, she was killed after defending her daughter’s memorial.
Local news cameras were rolling late Friday as Rodriguez, 50, prepared for a candlelight vigil to honor her daughter’s memory, along with that of Nisa Mickens, a friend who was also killed by MS-13 gang members on Ray Court in Brentwood in 2016. The cameras, there to document the grief still lingering after the teenage girls’ deaths, instead caught Rodriguez’s death on tape.
Police say Rodriguez had been involved in an altercation with a woman over the location of a memorial to her daughter, which had reportedly been dismantled ahead of Friday’s candlelight vigil. The woman, who's name is being withheld by authorities and was only identified by police as a relative of a homeowner on Ray Court near where the memorial was set up, can be seen in video of the incident sitting in a 2016 Nissan Rouge as Rodriguez and another man argued with her from outside the vehicle.
The car then abruptly accelerated and ran Rodriguez over, a moment caught on camera by Long Island News 12. The news outlet has posted video of part of the incident to its website, but said the final seconds were too graphic to include.
Rodriguez was rushed to a hospital where she died of her injuries. It's not clear if the unidentified woman in the SUV will be charged over the incident. Homicide investigators are reviewing video of the incident and working with the district attorney’s office to determine whether charges should be filed.
Rodriguez’s death, meanwhile, has left her friends and supporters shellshocked. Rodriguez was thrust into the national spotlight after her daughter's death moved her to become an activist fighting to eradicate street gangs. She was even honored by President Trump at a State of the Nation address this year.
The President tweeted Friday night that his “thoughts and prayers are with Evelyn Rodriguez this evening, along with her family and friends. #RIPEvelyn.”
Rep. Pete King called her death “almost too tragic to be real” in comments to News 12. “It's too much to believe that so much bad could happen to one good person,” he was quoted as saying.
Timothy Sini, the Suffolk County district attorney and a former police commissioner who investigated the killing of Rodriguez’s daughter and her friend, told The New York Times that he was “heartbroken” over the grieving-mother-turned-anti-gang-activist’s death.
“Evelyn was a true partner in our fight against MS-13,” he said. “As a parent, I cannot imagine how one is able to function after losing a child, particularly to murder. And she took that grief as a force to effect positive change. She accomplished a lot; she was a tireless advocate for her community,” he said.
Rodriguez’s death also sparked tributes from President Trump and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said in a statement late Friday that she’d shown “tremendous courage by dedicating herself to the disruption of gang violence throughout her community.”