Authorities have recovered another set of remains in a small Long Island town plagued by gang violence that has now seen five bodies turn up in a little more than a month.
The body found in the woods behind a state-run psychiatric hospital in Brentwood Sunday has been identified as Jose Pena-Hernandez, an 18-year-old man who hadn't been seen since June, police said.
Pena-Hernandez's remains were discovered as police scoured the grounds of the facility near Crooked Hill Road and the Long Island Expressway as part of the ongoing investigation into the series of murders.
The discovery follows the unearthing of four bodies of Brentwood High School students over the last six weeks. Oscar Acosta, 19, and Miguel Garcia-Moran, 15, were missing for several months before their bodies were found near Long Island Railroad tracks Sept. 26.
Authorities said that the two were victims of gang violence.
Two young girls, best friends with a passion for basketball, were found dead two weeks before Acosta and Garcia-Moran. On Sept. 13, the day before her 16th birthday, Nisa Mickens' brutally beaten body was found on a tree-lined street in Brentwood. A day later, the beaten body of her lifelong friend, 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, was discovered in the wooded backyard of a nearby home. Investigators suspect they too were victims of gang violence.
Police said Thursday that Pena-Hernandez was a known MS-13 gang member. An autopsy will be conducted to determine how he died, but police say they are investigating the case as a homicide.
Suffolk Police said Thursday Pena-Hernandez's remains were not found by accident. They said they've been putting pressure on the more than 25 known MS-13 gang members previously in custody on various charges -- some felonies, some misdemeanors -- as part of a larger gang takedown. None of the dozens of gang members arrested were charged in the murders but they're facing state or federal RICO charges -- meaning they need to cooperate or face lengthy prison sentences.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini told residents, "You're going to hear helicopters more often. That doesn't mean we're actively searching for anyone. We are engaging in proactive patrols and that includes by our schools, certain hot spots and in the air."
Anyone with information on the killings of Pena-Hernandez, Garcia-Moran, Acosta, Mickens or Cuevas is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. A $50,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest in the deaths of Mickens and Cuevas.
Brentwood had a population of 60,664 as of 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.