Mother of murdered 15-year old ‘Junior’ moved by city’s street dedication

A mural beside the place where Junior was attacked. Credit: Max Horberry

When Leandra Feliz first learned that Bathgate Avenue and E. 183rd Street in the Bronx would be renamed after her murdered son, she described it as God’s doing.

“People will forget it was Bathgate,” she said in Spanish. “It’’ll be Lesandro Junior.”

Feliz’s 15-year old son, Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, known as Junior, was killed this past June in a case of mistaken identity. Police have charged 12 men and arrested a 13th in connection to Junior’s murder.

“He (Junior) will be remembered forever,” Feliz said.

“It’s an honor from the city, the community.”

The men, whom police believe are members of the Trinitarios gang, mistook Junior for a member of a rival gang. Surveillance video shows Junior being chased into a bodega on Bathgate Avenue, only one block from his home. The men in the video dragged him into the street where they attacked him with machetes. Junior ran, bleeding, to St. Barnabas hospital, just one block away. He died before he reached the hospital gates. 

The hashtag #justiceforjunior spread online. Bathgate Avenue soon overflowed with candles and flowers. Celebrities such as Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez posted tributes on social media and rapper Cardi B donated $8,000 to the family. The combination of Junior’s age, the brutality of the murder, and the fact it was caught on video, turned what might have been another anonymous murder into a national story. 

Councilperson Ritchie Torres led the movement for the dedication of the street name. He called Junior’s death a “rallying cry” that will draw attention to gang violence in low income neighbourhoods. He compared Junior to Emmett Till, the 14-year old African-American who became a civil rights icon after his murder by lynching in 1955.

The bodega was reopened under new ownership who offered to name it after Junior. Feliz objected.

“To me it’s really sad that they would name the bodega ‘Junior’ after everything they told me they did to him,” she said. 

Leandra Feliz, Junior’s mother. Credit: Max Horberry

More than two months after the killing, there are still fresh flowers placed at Junior’s grave daily, Feliz said. People continue to send her gifts and in her home she is surrounded by photos, dedications, and paintings of Junior. She serves coffee from mugs decorated with collages of photos of her son.

The outpouring of support was almost as shocking as the murder itself, Feliz said.

“It’s impacted as much as the tragedy, the support of everyone. It’s incredible but true. That’s what makes me think that God is doing all this.”

Feliz’s neighborhood has seen an increase in crime over the past few years. When she first moved to the neighborhood it was quiet, she said. Murder is up 50% in the last two years, according to the NYPD.

“My goodness, the Bronx is crazy,” Feliz said, after her train of thought was interrupted by the television news. There was a shooting in Melrose.

“I’ve been living here for 17 years and now I’m feeling like it’s getting worse.”

The street will be officially renamed Lesandro ‘Junior’ Way in January in a dedication ceremony.