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World: Evelyn Rodriguez, mother of girl killed by ms-13, remembered for her courage




Evelyn Rodriguez, a fierce wisp of a mother who had gone to Washington and spoken privately with President Donald Trump about MS-13, the transnational gang that killed her daughter Kayla Cuevas and a friend, Nisa Mickens, with a machete in September 2016, had dedicated her life to her daughter’s memory.

On Friday afternoon, two years almost to the date, she died fighting for her memory.

Rodriguez, 50, was run over by a car in Brentwood, Long Island, at the scene of a memorial for her daughter, police said. Rodriguez and Kayla’s father, Freddy Cuevas, had been in a dispute with the driver about a shrine she had put up.

The police on Saturday had not filed charges and would only say an investigation was continuing. They definitively ruled out any connection between MS-13 and Rodriguez’s death.

“It’s beyond grief,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who represents Brentwood and had become close with Rodriguez. “I can’t imagine a more horrific death for a child than being macheted to death and a more horrific death of an adult than being crushed by a vehicle.”

Barbara Medina, Rodriguez’s closest friend, was not there when Rodriguez was struck by the car, but said she had spoken with Cuevas, the longtime partner of Rodriguez, who gave an account of what happened.

“They had set up a shrine for Kayla’s second anniversary,” Medina said. “When they returned, the shrine was gone, the balloon had popped, as well as Kayla’s picture, everything was gone.”

Both Rodriguez and Cuevas were seen on footage recorded Friday by News 12, a local television outlet, confronting the driver of a white SUV — apparently about the disassembled shrine — about 90 minutes before the memorial was to begin. The police said the driver was related to a homeowner on the block.

As seen in the video, Cuevas waved his arms angrily and started walking to the back of the vehicle while Rodriguez stayed to the driver’s side. It was then, according to Medina, that the driver accelerated.

“She hit her, ran over her twice,” Medina said. “This was just senseless.”

The driver stayed to call 911, police said.

The Suffolk County Police Department said Friday that there had been a dispute over the placement of the memorial but would not comment further on the specifics of the events.

“She meant everything to me,” Cuevas said in a brief interview in which he was inconsolable except to praise Rodriguez’s strength and encouragement.

Arrangements were made for a wake Thursday in Brentwood at the same funeral home that buried Kayla.

As tributes poured in from Trump on Twitter, Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement and from other leaders, it was clear that in her life, Rodriguez united people with her undeniable will. No mother, she said, should have to go through what she did.

Rodriguez grew up in the Bronx and in Puerto Rico; her public stance against illegal immigration, she said, was against criminals coming into the country and enrolling in schools.

“There was never a hint that she was blaming anyone political,” King said.

Rodriguez focused her message to Trump on getting more money for schools for gang-prevention programs and on safety measures there. She had sued the Brentwood school district for negligence in Kayla’s death and her dispute with an MS-13 gang member that officials said began at school.

Rodriguez, along with the parents of Nisa, had attended the State of the Union in January as a guest of first lady Melania Trump.

In May, she worked with King to have Trump appear at a round-table discussion in Long Island. She helped arrange the attendance of family members, in the country illegally, of four young Latino men who were also killed by MS-13.

“I never met anyone with more guts and more courage and never felt sorry for herself,” King said. “She never ever said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ She always wanted to protect other people.”

King said he was on his way to the vigil when he found out she had died. When he got there, King said, streams of people were coming down the street unaware of what had happened. As word soon spread, people’s faces went blank, King said: “It was almost like, ‘What’s going to happen next to this community?'”

In summer 2017, as Rodriguez prepared to see Trump for the first time at a speech before law enforcement officers on Long Island, she spoke of her activism.

Her words read like an epitaph.

“There are days where you feel like you want your world to end, just like your child’s,” Rodriguez said. “Then you realize you have a new purpose: to fight, so that your child’s death is not in vain.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Liz Robbins © 2018 The New York Times

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