The Bronx bodega owner who drew public outcry for not doing more to help a murdered teen has spoken out, offering new surveillance video showing him trying to hide the victim from the vicious killers.
Breaking down in tears at times, Modesto Cruz on Friday told reporters his account of the gangland machete slaying of Lesandro ‘Junior’ Guzman-Feliz, 15, on June 20 just outside his store.
Guzman, an aspiring NYPD cop, was killed in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Eight suspected members of the Trinitarios, a Dominican street gang, have been arrested and charged in the murder.
‘I just feel very, very bad,’ Cruz said before explaining in broken English what happened in his store and how he tried his best to stop it.
Breaking down in tears at times, Modesto Cruz (left) on Friday told reporters his account of the gangland machete slaying of teen Lesandro ‘Junior’ Guzman (right) in his store
New surveillance footage (above) shows that shopkeeper Cruz pulled the teen behind his store counter to attempt to hide him from the gang hunting him down
Though Cruz (not seen behind the counter) at first tried to stop the teen from jumping the counter, he realized what was happening and tried to pull him to safety
The gang members stormed behind the counter and grabbed Guzman, dragging him out of the bodega by his shirt collar (above)
‘I was closing the store, I already passed the key to close the store, when somebody go and jump over the counter,’ Cruz said.
New surveillance video shows Guzman rush into the bodega and attempt to jump over the counter to hide. The shopkeeper for a few seconds tries to stop him, before realizing what is happening and helping Guzman behind the counter.
‘My first reaction was stop it,’ Cruz recalled. ‘When he got down I recognized him… When he told me “They looking for me”, I help bring him down. But he was so scared, and I remember his face.’
Second later, the gang members storm into the store and Guzman leaps up behind the counter and tries to flee.
‘I tried to hold him down, and he jumped up,’ recalled Cruz. ‘The other people coming for him, they saw him.’
The gang members storm behind the counter and grab Guzman, dragging him out of the store by his shirt collar.
Surveillance video outside the bodega shows the brutal machete attack on Guzman
‘We let them take him out… we scared at the moment, we under panic’ said Cruz.
‘At that moment [if] we continued to resist the situation, we’re gonna get cut. There was too many young kids for only two people,’ he continued, referring to himself and his assistant in the shop.
Cruz said he immediately called 911, staying on with the operator for four minutes pleading for police to respond as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, surveillance footage outside of the bodega shows the gang members holding Guzman down on the sidewalk and savagely hacking his neck with a machete. Prosecutors say they mistakenly believed he was a man seen having sex with a gang member’s love interest in a Snapchat video.
Guzman ran back into the store bleeding, as seen in previously released footage that drew furious reaction against the bodega owner.
The shopkeeper’s assistant is seen pointing toward the door and Guzman runs back out.
Now Cruz says that he wasn’t kicking the bleeding teen out, but gesturing that the ambulance was taking too long and telling the kid that the hospital was just a block away.
The bodega has been closed since the murder, and crowds gathered to mourned the teen’s death and protest against the shopkeeper’s perceived indifference
Guzman collapsed while running to the hospital and died.
In the days since, politicians and the public have raised an outcry that the bodega owner didn’t do more to stop the horrific crime.
‘To ask the question could he have done more after the fact, he didn’t know that these guys were gonna kill him,’ Cruz’s attorney said at the Friday press conference.
‘So the first thing in the minds of all the people calling for the closing of the store, they should know that he didn’t know they were gonna kill him.’
Eight men were arrested and charged in the murder: Jose ‘Canelito’ Muniz, 21, Elvin Garcia, 23, Jose Taverez, 21, Manuel Rivera, 18, Danel Fernandez, 21, Joniki Martinez, 24,Santiago Rodriguez, 24, and Kevin Alvarez, 19.
Alvarez appeared in court on Friday for his arraignment and was the first of the eight to plead not guilty.
Alvarez (center) appeared in court on Friday for his arraignment and pleaded not guilty
The parents of Guzman enter Bronx Supreme Court on Friday for the hearing of Kevin Alvarez
The other suspects are seen left to right: Jose Taverez, Joniki Martinez and Manuel Rivera
Other suspects left to right: Elvin Garcia, Jose Muniz, Danel Fernandez and Santiago Rodriguez
Police said Alvarez was the one seen in the video wearing a white t-shirt dragging Guzman-Feliz out of the bodega before he was viciously stabbed to death.
Alvarez’s attorney, Manuel Portela, addressed the media briefly outside the courthouse, releasing the following statement:
‘Up until this day, he had no criminal history. And this is based on a fingerprint analysis. He had no history of violence. He lived with his mother and brother, supporting them.
‘And he was in the US military, and he received a medical honorary discharge. … I ask that the public continue to allow the judicial system, prosecution and the defense to fully investigate this case.’
The body of of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz is taken from the Our Lady of Mount Carmel church after funeral services on Wednesday in New York
The mother (center) of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz watches as his body is taken from Our Lady of Mount Carmel church after funeral services on Wednesday
Guzman was buried on Wednesday in a massive funeral attended by thousands.
The teen was in the NYPD Explorer program and was a die-hard Yankees fan.
While not as well known as the infamous MS-13, the Trinitarios presence is rising in New York City and bringing with it a wave of violence, experts say.
Its specialties are machete murders, drug dealing and prostitution, according to police sources. Members distinguish themselves with lime-green bandannas.