Female Gang Member Allegedly Lured Teens to Woods for Flashing Gang Signs Online, Had Them Brutally Murdered

Leniz Escobar, an admitted member of the MS-13 gang, is charged with several counts of racketeering in federal court

Leniz Escobar
Leniz Escobar. Photo: United States Attorney's Office

The trial began Monday for a young woman from Central Islip, N.Y., who is accused of luring five young men into a savage 2017 ambush that left four of them dead.

Leniz Escobar, an admitted member of the MS-13 gang, is charged with convincing the victims — Michael Lopez, Justin Llivicura, Jorge Tigre and Jefferson Villalobos — into meeting up at a wooded area to smoke marijuana.

But soon after the young men arrived, they were ambushed. They were beaten and hacked to death with machetes and tree limbs by more than a dozen members of the notorious MS-13 gang, prosecutors allege. In court documents obtained by The Tribune-Democrat, prosecutors described the murders as a "horrific frenzy of violence."

Escobar, who was 17 at the time of the attacks, has been charged with multiple counts of racketeering. She faces up to life in prison.

In court on Tuesday, Alexander Ruiz — the lone survivor of the attack — testified that he managed to escape by running for his life. According to Fox 5 News, he told the jury that members of MS-13 covered their faces with sweatshirts and ordered them to get down on the ground.

Prosecutors allege that the motive for the attack was payback because the victims had allegedly "disrespected" the gang on social media. Prosecutors also allege that the slain teens were members of a rival gang, although their families dispute that allegation.

Escobar has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and her attorneys say she did not realize that the victims would be attacked.

But prosecutors disagree. During their opening statements, they alleged that Escobar lied and portrayed herself as a victim, but secretly bragged to her boyfriend about her role in the murders. They also allege that she discarded her bloody clothes and disposed of her cellphone so that law enforcement would be unable to recover its contents.

Justin Llivicura, Jefferson Villalobos, Michael Banegas and Jorge Tigre
Justin Llivicura, Jefferson Villalobos, Michael Banegas and Jorge Tigre.

In court papers, prosecutors say that Escobar is suspected of "instigating the murders, along with another juvenile female, by locating photographs of some of the victims flashing MS-13 gang signs on social media … and then showing those photographs to MS-13 members."

According to the New York Post, four other MS-13 members are awaiting trial for the murders, while two other members have already been sentenced to 50 and 55 years in prison, respectively.

Federal authorities say that MS-13, also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, actively recruits young teens from El Salvador and Honduras, although many gang members were born in the U.S. The gang has been blamed for dozens of killings on Long Island.

The trial of Escobar, nicknamed "Diablita," is expected to continue for several weeks. Her attorney did not immediately return PEOPLE's call for comment.

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