Last July 21 at around 5 p.m., 16-year-old Angel Soler took off from his Roosevelt home on his green bicycle. Hours later, the former Freeport High School student was hacked to death with machetes in the woods off the Southern State Parkway, between Baldwin and Roosevelt. He was killed by members of the notorious El Salvadoran gang MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, according to authorities.
Soler’s mother, Suyapa, 35, told the Spanish-language news station Telemundo last summer that she feared her son had gotten caught up with MS-13, although precisely how he might have been remains unclear.
MS-13 formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and from there it spread south to El Salvador, and then to other parts of the United States. The gang formed, in part, when El Salvadoran refugees escaping their country’s civil war sought mutual protection against the many Los Angeles gangs. When members were deported back to El Salvador, the gang, known for its willingness to murder any and all who might stand in its way, went international.
Most gang members are ages 11 to 40, and operate in smaller, local groups known as “cliques.” On Long Island, they go by the names Sailors and Hollywood. MS-13 members are known for their elaborate, full-body tattoos, including facial tattoos, and often go by nicknames.
Soler’s body was found last Oct. 21.
In an indictment against 17 members of the gang filed in Nassau County Supreme Court in January, Soler was referred to by the nickname “Chapo.” According to his mother, he was a friend of Joshua Aguilar and Kerin Pineda, who had been missing for close to a year before Soler’s disappearance. Aguilar has not been found. Pineda’s remains were discovered in the woods between Freeport and Merrick, near the Sunrise Highway, last November. The 19-year-old Freeporter was also hacked to death with machetes.
According to Soler’s mother, Angel had been threatened by MS-13. When she could not reach him on July 21, she reported him missing to Nassau County police, worried that he had fallen into the hands of MS-13.
“I don’t know where my son is,” she said in between tears in her native Spanish during an interview with Telemundo last July. “On Friday, I noticed he was acting weird and desperate. I asked him what was wrong, but he didn’t answer me.”
Suyapa said she had invited her son to go with her to visit her niece, but he declined. That afternoon, he was missing. In the days after he disappeared, his mother began to realize the depth of the threat against her son that MS-13 posed.
“He told someone he was very threatened,” Suyapa told Telemundo. “And someone told my son that it was time to jump to ‘La Mara’ — the gang.”
“Get ready because you’re going to be the next one,” stated a text message to Soler, which Telemundo reported.
Soler arrived in the U.S. as an unaccompanied minor in 2014 from Comayagua, in Honduras, which is in the violent “Northern Triangle.” According to the Council on Foreign Relations, hundreds of unaccompanied minors streamed out of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in recent years to escape the drug trade and gang violence. The region was destabilized during the 1980s by a series of civil wars. Soler attended Freeport High School for a brief period and was expected to start classes at Roosevelt High School last fall. According to his mother, he fled Honduras to escape MS-13.
Last summer, Suyapa partnered with Pineda’s mother, Lilian Oliva-Santos, to find their sons, according to a family friend who spoke with the Herald Leader via Facebook last October. Pineda went missing in May 2016. Like Soler, Pineda was an unaccompanied minor, who attended Freeport High School and had repeated the ninth grade twice. As of March, Pineda was no longer listed as a student at FHS.
Last week, a third alleged MS-13 gang member tied to Angel’s death, Josue Figueroa-Velasquez, 18, from Freeport, was arrested. His arrest followed that of David Sosa Guevara, 26, of Wyandanch, and Victor Lopez, 29, of Roosevelt, who were also connected to the killing. Guevara was charged with second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held without bail. According to the criminal complaint against Figueroa-Velasquez, filed in District Court on May 29, a fourth suspect remains at large.
The Freeport Herald Leader called several times seeking an interview with Suyapa Soler. She had agreed to one recently, but at the last minute declined.
Last week, police uncovered a fifth body of an alleged MS-13 victim. On June 4, he was identified as Josue Amaya Leonor, 19, of Roosevelt, who reportedly attended Freeport High School from September 2014 to November 2015. Amaya Lenor went missing in September 2016, four months after Pineda (see story above).
In addition to Lenor, Soler, Pineda and Castillo, the remains of Julio Cesar Gonzales-Espantzay, of Valley Stream, were discovered in the Massapequa Preserve, near Seaview and Ocean avenues, last March.
Scott Brinton contributed to this story.