Evelyn Rodriguez died last week after being struck by a white SUV as she prepared a vigil for her daughter, Kayla Cuevas. A wake was held Thursday at the Grant Michael Funeral home in Brentwood, ahead of funeral services Friday.
Rodriguez was honored at St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church on 2nd Avenue in Brentwood, which has become the epicenter of the fight against MS-13 on Long Island. She was remembered as a crusader who never quit.
In the two short years since her 16-year-old daughter's brutal murder, Rodriguez turned tragedy into light -- fighting for at-risk youth and for the families of those who weren't brave enough to speak up.
Those who attended the funeral exemplified the broad spectrum of Evelyn's impact, everyone from Brentwood residents to politicians to members of law enforcement. Many spoke about the cruel irony of her death last week at the very site where her daughter was killed, and they vowed to continue her fight.
"A thousand people couldn't fill her shoes, but people need to step up," Brentwood resident Maria Heuskin said. "People need to keep her memory going, keep her fight alive."
Rodriguez secured $27 million from the state to go towards protecting at-risk youth and helped advocate for children from El Salvador in need of heart surgery.
She was struck near the site where Cuevas' body was found beaten and stabbed two years ago. The murders of Cuevas and 15-year-old Nisa Mickens in 2016 shocked the community.
Rodriguez was run over by a driver who apparently was involved in an altercation with her before she was killed. Witnesses say the driver had removed commemorative items from the site.
The driver stayed at the scene and no charges were immediately filed, but Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating.
Rodriguez had filed a $110 million lawsuit last December against the Brentwood School District, claiming it ignored warnings that MS-13 members were threatening Cuevas. She said employees failed to act when told that the girl was being threatened, and the lawsuit claimed the bullying started two years before the teenager was killed.
She appealed to members of Congress in 2017 to take action to combat gang violence on Long Island, explaining that her community was living in fear.
She also met with President Trump and attended the State of the Union address last January.
President Trump tweeted his condolences last Friday night, saying, 'My thoughts and prayers are with Evelyn Rodriguez this evening, along with her family and friends. #RIPEvelyn'
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has directed state police to provide any assistance and resources to Suffolk County police as they investigate Rodriguez's death.
"In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy of her daughter's death, Evelyn showed tremendous courage by dedicating herself to the disruption of gang violence throughout her community. As she stood by my side as we fought back against MS-13, I stand with her family tonight."
Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini released the following statement:
"Evelyn Rodriguez endured unspeakable tragedy when her daughter was murdered two years ago. As a parent, I cannot imagine functioning after the loss of a child, but Evelyn was able to turn that tragedy into a mission for good. She harvested her grief and used it as a catalyst for positive change on behalf of her community and on behalf of this country. She was a fierce advocate for her hometown of Brentwood and was fearless in her fight to put an end to the violence caused by MS-13 to ensure that other parents never have to endure the pain she suffered. Evelyn is one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. I am proud to have worked with her and even more proud to have called her a friend. I know I speak for everyone who knew Evelyn in saying that we are truly heartbroken over her loss."
Suffolk County police ask anyone with information on the incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392.
WATCH the complete funeral service
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