Following the brutal gang-related slaying of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, also known as “Junior,” in June 2018, the Bronx bodega where the attack took place has now become the community’s first Safe Haven Zone.
The 15-year-old was killed after police say a group of gang members mistook him for a rival. Guzman-Feliz tried to flee his attackers by running into a nearby bodega. According to ABC7, many in the community believe the bodega owner didn’t do enough to help the 15-year-old boy, who was ultimately dragged out of the store and stabbed to death.
“It was like I didn’t do nothing. But I did,” Modesto Cruz, the former Bronx bodega owner, tells NY1. “First, try to hide the kid under the counter. Second, I tried to hold the little door he got access to inside the counter, we tried to hold it. They got to put the responsibility for the people who did this.”
In an effort to not only save lives but protect their own, bodega owners have partnered with the NYPD to develop a six-step program that includes installation of donated equipment, including a panic button that calls the police, in-store cameras, automatic magnetic locks, and bright lights. Once the panic button is pressed, the surveillance footage can be monitored in real time by the local precinct.
“We need for these bodega owners to have the equipment necessary to come forth and not so much risk their lives but save the lives of others,” said Fernando Mateo of United Bodegas of America. “When somebody’s life is threatened and they walk into a safe haven store, that bodega owner could lock the door, so whoever is chasing that person can’t get in.”
This marks the city’s first Safe Haven bodega, which was unveiled with a ceremony on Wednesday morning (Jan. 23). The program, which currently includes 10 owners with hundreds more expected, is completely voluntary and costs about $3,000 to $4,000.
As of July 2018, 12 suspects have been arrested in connection with the death of Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz.