Mom of alleged MS-13 victim killed by car at girl's memorial

NEW YORK (AP) — A grieving New York mother recognized by President Donald Trump at the State of the Union in his campaign against deadly MS-13 gang violence was struck by an SUV and killed at a memorial to her slain daughter Friday after a heated confrontation with the driver.

Evelyn Rodriguez was hit around 4 p.m. in Brentwood, police said, on the street where her 16-year-old daughter Kayla Cuevas' body was found beaten and slashed two years ago to the day. Cuevas' friend, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens was also killed.

The community is the epicenter of the fight against MS-13 violence on Long Island.

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Evelyn Rodriguez, daughter was allegedly killed by MS-13 gang members
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Evelyn Rodriguez, daughter was allegedly killed by MS-13 gang members
BRENTWOOD, NY - FEBRUARY 16: Evelyn Rodriguez gets emotional talking about the murder of her daughter, Kayla Cuevas during an interview on February 16, 2018 in Brentwood, NY. Rodriguez is suing Brentwood High School for $110 million for not doing more for her daughter's safety. (Michael Noble Jr. for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as Evelyn Rodriguez, whose daughter Kayla Cuevas was killed by MS-13 gang members, cries as she speaks during a roundtable on immigration and the gang MS-13 at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Evelyn Rodriguez, the mother of MS-13 gang victim Kayla Cuevas, speaks to members of the media outside U.S. District Court on Thursday, March 2, 2017 in Central Islip, N.Y. Federal authorities and police in Long Island arrested four MS-13 gang members for the murders of three teenagers: MS-13 gang member Jose Pena-Hernandez, 18, and high school students Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16. (Photo by James Keivom James Keivom/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable on immigration and the gang MS-13 as he sits between Evelyn Rodriguez, whose daughter was killed ny MS-13 gang members and U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Evelyn Rodriguez, the mother of MS-13 gang victim Kayla Cuevas, speaks to members of the media outside U.S. District Court on Thursday, March 2, 2017 in Central Islip, N.Y. Federal authorities and police in Long Island arrested four MS-13 gang members for the murders of three teenagers: MS-13 gang member Jose Pena-Hernandez, 18, and high school students Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16. (Photo by James Keivom James Keivom/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 30: Freddy Cuevas, right, and Evelyn Rodriguez, parents of Kayla Cuevas who was killed by MS-13 gang members, are recognized by President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 30, 2018. Elizabeth Alvarado, upper left, is the parent Nisa Mickens who was killed in the same attack on Long Island in 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
US President Donald Trump embraces Evelyn Rodriguez (C), whose daughter was killed by MS-13 gang members, alongside her husband Freddy Cuevas, during a roundtable discussion on immigration at Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, May 23, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Evelyn Rodriguez (L), whose daughter was killed by MS-13 gang members, during a roundtable discussion on immigration at Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, May 23, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENTWOOD, NY - FEBRUARY 16: Evelyn Rodriguez poses for a portrait near a memorial for her murdered daughter, Kayla Cuevas on February 16, 2018 in Brentwood, NY. Rodriguez is suing Brentwood High School for $110 million for not doing more for her daughter's safety. (Michael Noble Jr. for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Rodriguez and another person were standing in the street and yelling at the driver of the SUV before the vehicle sped forward and struck her, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.

News 12 Long Island aired video of the argument but didn't show Rodriguez being hit.

So far, there is no evidence of ties to MS-13 or any indication that the crash was retribution by the gang, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The driver remained at the scene and was not immediately arrested, according to the official, who added that detectives are still investigating what prompted the confrontation.

U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who had worked with Rodriguez on a campaign ad, was on his way to the memorial when he learned that she had been hit. He said it happened about an hour before a service was scheduled to begin.

"It's a tragedy beyond belief," King told the AP. "Everyone is in shock. What more could happen to one woman?"

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini, who was police commissioner when Cuevas and Mickens were killed, said Rodriguez was "one of the strongest people" he's ever met and that he's heartbroken over her death.

"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," Sini said.

Rodriguez spoke out against the gang and the local school district after Cuevas and Mickens were attacked with machetes and baseball bats. Mickens' body was found near an elementary school on Sept. 13, 2016. Cuevas' body was found the next day, a few hundred feet away.

The girls' alleged killers, who were arrested along with about a dozen other suspected MS-13 members, are facing murder charges that could result in the death penalty.

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A look at the MS-13 crime organization
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A look at the MS-13 crime organization
Shackled gang members stand in a line upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Gang members are escorted upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Gang members are escorted upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A former gang member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang attends a tattoo removal session at the National Youth Institute (Injuve) in San Salvador, on July 1, 2016. The tattoo removal project, promoted by the government of Salvador, is attended daily by dozens of people - mostly young former gang members seeking to put an end to the stigma that associates them with the dreaded gangs. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Shackled gang members wait upon arrival at the maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on December 1, 2016. Twenty gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on December 1 to Zacatecoluca. The Salvadoran authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Alleged members of the 18 gang gesture as they walk during their presentation to the press in San Salvador on February 26, 2016. Members of the national civil police and the armed forces captured 240 dangerous gang members accused of homicide and extortion in the last three days in different areas of El Salvador, informed Friday the public prosecutor's office. El Salvador faces an escalation of violence attributed mostly to the war between the MS-13 and 18 ST gangs. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
An alleged member of a gang gestures as he is transported after being presented to the press in San Salvador on February 26, 2016. Members of the national civil police and the armed forces captured 240 dangerous gang members accused of homicide and extortion in the last three days in different areas of El Salvador, informed Friday the public prosecutor's office. El Salvador faces an escalation of violence attributed mostly to the war between the MS-13 and 18 ST gangs. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A bomb squad specialist gets ready to make a controlled explosion after suspicious artifacts were found in Habitat, a colony 25 km south of Tegucigalpa, on May 4, 2016. Security forces participating in Operation Hurricane found several explosive devices in an area controlled by gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang captured by soldiers during an operation to recover neighborhoods controlled by gangs, in Quezaltepeque, a town 15 km from San Salvador, on June 7, 2016. The Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street gangs are the main cause of the escalation of violence plaguing El Salvador, where an estimated 60,000 people belong to gangs, 15,000 of them in prison. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Members of the MS-13 gang are detained near the crime scene where two men, Jose Wilfredo Navidad and Nestor Alexander Rivera, were killed as they rode a motorcycle on their way to work, in San Salvador, El Salvador January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum security jail in Zacatecoluca, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
A police officer paints over a graffiti associated with the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the Montreal neighborhood in Mejicanos, El Salvador December 9, 2015. The El Salvadorean police is conducting an operation to erase graffiti associated with gangs as part of a strategy to regain control in gang-controlled areas in this neighborhood, according to the police. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang are guarded by policemen upon their arrival at the Quezaltepeque jail in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador, March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Two women and a child walk near a wall covered in graffiti and showing the letters "MS", which stand for street gang Mara Salvatrucha, in a neighborhood in San Salvador April 22, 2014. Church leaders in El Salvador on Tuesday said they want to revive a fragile truce between the country's powerful street gangs in order to curb a resurgence of violent crime. The 2012 truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and rival gang Barrio 18 helped cut the Central American country's murder rate in mid-2013 to around five per day, a 10-year low, from around 12 a day. REUTERS/Jessica Orellana (EL SALVADOR - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST POLITICS)
Carlos Tiberio Ramirez, one of the leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang attends the Day of the Virgin of Mercy celebrations at the female prison in San Salvador September 24, 2012. About 2008 female inmates, 40% of them belonging to the MS-13 and 18 Street (Mara 18) gangs, interacted with their families as part of the celebrations for the Day of the Virgin of Mercy, the patron Saint of prisoners, local media reported. During the event, the spokesmen and leaders of the two largest gangs in the country, MS-13 and 18st, gave a news conference to mark the 200-days of an unprecedented truce signed on March 19, that authorities say has cut the homicide rate in half in just four months. REUTERS/Ulises Rodriguez (EL SALVADOR - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW)
A convoy of military lorries transports inmates of the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (Ms-13) gangs from the Tamara National Penitentiary to the El Pozo II medium security prison in Moroceli, El Paraiso department, 70 km east of Tegucigalpa, on May 16, 2017. The transfer of some 650 inmates was decided after the evasion of 22 members of the Barrio 18 gang from the penitentiary. / AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Parolees paint over graffiti associated with the Mara Salvatrucha's gang in San Salvador, during an operation to take back gang-controlled neighborhoods, on August 16, 2016. The Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street gangs are the main cause of the violence escalation plaguing El Salvador, where an estimated 60,000 people belong to gangs, 15,000 of them in prison. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the 'Mara Salvatrucha' gang are kept in restraints in court in Guatemala City on July 28, 2015. At least three mara members were shot by rival gangsters while they were held under custody in a special jail located in the basement of the Supreme Court building. AFP PHOTO JOHAN ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), is pictured on Monday, March 4, 2013, in the Criminal Center of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, 160 km east of San Salvador, one year after the cessation of the violence between the rivalry of two large gangs in El Salvador, MS13 and 18 st. El Salvador, a small country of six million people, is brimming with an estimated 50,000 street gang members, plus another 10,000 who are behind bars. Since the first truce took effect about a year ago, the average daily death toll from gang-related violence has gone down from 14 to five. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), held on Monday, March 4, 2013, in the Criminal Center of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, 160 km east of San Salvador, after one year of cessation of the violence between the rivalry of two large gangs in El Salvador, MS13 and 18 st. El Salvador, a small country of six million people, is brimming with an estimated 50,000 street gang members, plus another 10,000 who are behind bars. Since the first truce took effect about a year ago, the average daily death toll from gang-related violence has gone down from 14 to five. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A Mara Salvatrucha gang member attends a press conference where leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 declared the city of Quezaltepeque a peace zone or 'Sanctuary City' for gang related violence, on January 31, 2013 at the Quezaltepeque prison, 25 kms west of San Salvador. Gang leaders and members have been involved in a gang truce to reduce crime in El Salvador. AFP PHOTO/ Juan CARLOS (Photo credit should read Juan CARLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Carlos Tiberio Valladares, a.k.a. sniper, leader of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, attends a press conference at the Female Jail in San Salvador, El Salvador on September 24, 2012. The leaders of the Mara 18 and Salvatrucha offered a press conference during the celebration of the 200 days of truce between them to reduce murder. AFP PHOTO/Jose CABEZAS (Photo credit should read Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages)
SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR: Picture of a member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, presented before the press after his arrest in San Salvador, 17 March 2005. Violence from street gangs, known in the region as 'maras,' are considered the most pressing security issues in large cities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras - countries which will take part in the Anti-Maras Meeting on April 1st, in Tegucigalpa. Many of the Central American gangs have members living in the United States, and during his recent visit to Guatemala, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced a possible increase in US aid for the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and gang violence in the region. AFP PHOTO/Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 12: (U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT AND NEWSWEEK OUT) Photos of gang members and the names of their gangs are shown by U.S. officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a press conference announcing the results of their efforts after arresting 95 members of Hispanic gangs from an operation that began in January 2005 on May 12, 2005 in New York City. The gang members are illegal residents and will be deported to their countries of origin. Of 33 gang members arrested in the past 72 hours, 11 are members of the most violent gang, Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13). Many of the 95 members arrested since January 2005 are members of Mexican mafia groups living in New York, Yonkers and Long Island. ICE officers are part of the federal government's Department of Homeland Security. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
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MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha, is blamed for dozens of killings on Long Island since 2016. Trump has blamed the violence on lax immigration policies.

Prosecutors say Kayla was targeted because of ongoing disputes with gang members at her school. They say Nisa was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Rodriguez filed a $110 million lawsuit last December against the Brentwood School District, claiming it ignored warnings that MS-13 members were threatening Kayla.

Rodriguez said that employees failed to act when told that the girl was being threatened. The lawsuit says the bullying went on for two years before the teenager was killed.

Rodriguez told a House subcommittee last year that residents were living in fear and were afraid to let their kids play outside.

"The MS-13 gang is so unpredictable you just don't know who is who with them," Rodriguez said. "MS-13 is a new breed of murderers, they are children, kids killing kids, and as they continue to grow, so does their techniques of recruiting helpless kids into their wicked actions."

MS-13 is believed by federal prosecutors to have thousands of members across the U.S., primarily immigrants from Central America.

It has a stronghold in Los Angeles, where it emerged in the 1980s as a neighborhood street gang, and is suspected of violence in cities and suburbs across the United States.

Cuevas and Mickens' deaths put a sharpened focus on what had already been a spate of gang violence on Long Island. MS-13 has been blamed for more than two dozen slayings across a wide swath of the island since January 2016.

Last month, an MS-13 member pleaded guilty to participating in the brutal massacre of four young men in nearby Central Islip.

Josue Portillo, 17, admitted to planning the April 2017 killings with other MS-13 defendants because he said they believed the four were rival gang members, prosecutors said. The victims were lured to a park and attacked with machetes, knives and clubs.

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Balsamo reported from Washington.

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