A doomed young couple who were found shot dead in a car in a Bronx park and burned beyond recognition were victims of a deadly gang war sparked by a stolen purse, law enforcement officials told the Post.
Nikki Huang and ex-college hoopster Jesse Parrilla, 22, were executed in a series of retaliatory shootings that broke out after Huang berated her mobster friends that a rival crew mugged her and stole her purse last Sunday, the sources said Thursday.
Parrilla wasn’t part of the deadly beef between rival Up the Hill and Down the Hill crews, the sources said – and only became involved in the bloodshed while spending time with Huang.
“Right now it looks like he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said a Manhattan police officer. “He has no criminal record. It looks like he was just hanging out with Nikki.”
The ex-hoopster’s mother, Michelle Morales, who owned the car in which the couple was killed, said her son knew Huang from middle school.
“He was a kind hearted person who just helped a friend on a ride,” she said through tears. “I don’t think he was aware of anything. He had no idea what was going on because he would never put himself in such a situation.
“I am so angry and devastated and hurt that my son was taken from me just like that. The last words he said to me when I was finally able to speak to him were, ‘I love you.'”
The bodies of the tragic young couple were found in the charred car at the Pelham/Split Rock golf course in the Bronx around 4:30am Monday – with few leads to help officers.
But detectives now suspect the tragic series of events that led to the young couple’s shooting and burning to death was set in motion after 23-year-old Huang was robbed near a Lower East Side housing project.
Their attackers were allegedly members of a local crew calling themselves the Down the Hill Gang, law enforcement sources said.
The young woman, whose family owns a nail salon and restaurant on the Lower East Side, happened to have friends in the rival Up the Hill gang. Instead of going to the police, she complained to them about the crime.
Police sources said the two gangs were second-generation Big Apple crews, with Down the Hill calling Alphabet City its turf and Up the Hill controlling the Lower East Side.
They are not connected to national gangs that have been locked in turf wars for years, as far away as San Francisco and as close as Paterson, New Jersey.
And apparently the rivalry in Manhattan is so strong that they didn’t let the robbery of Huang, who lost cash and credit cards in addition to her wallet, go on.
Sources said the repayment began on Sunday with a series of shootings.
At 11:18 p.m., a 39-year-old respected member of the Down the Hill gang, Brandon Atkinson, was gunned down in Alphabet City, police said. It was not known if Atkinson was actually the robber who stole the purse, but he was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police officers said.
The Down the Hill gang’s revenge came quickly when less than an hour later, two Up the Hill members were shot and wounded on Pike Street.
They then continued their revenge by going after Huang himself. Police believe Down the Hill members targeted her for kidnapping on Sunday night while she was hanging out with Parrilla.
Both young people were grabbed and held down by the gang as Down the Hill members sought further revenge by forcing the young woman at gunpoint to betray a friend of hers. They ordered her to call him and get him to leave his Queens home so he could be mugged.
Police said the victim, identified by sources as Maurice Sullivan, 27, was taking out his trash in Maspeth when a dark-colored vehicle pulled up around 2:20 a.m. and shot the victim in the left side of the face.
Tragically, the bloodshed wasn’t over yet, as Huang and her friend Parrilla would be the last to die.
Shortly after she called Sullivan, the victims were driven to a quiet, leafy neighborhood near the popular Bronx golf course, where they were shot gangland-style and the car belonging to Parrilla’s mother was set on fire.
Huang, 23, worked at Wa Lung Kitchen, a Lower East Side Chinese restaurant owned by her mother, who also owns Nails by Nikki, a nearby nail salon.
“She was tough, she was a tough girl,” said Dean Ford, 25, a former classmate at PS 110 and Tompkins Square Middle School. “But she was a loyal friend. She had a nice smile.
Neighbor Imam Choudhury, who said his wife once babysat Parrilla, said Morales “screamed and cried” after receiving news of their only son’s death on Monday.
“She couldn’t take it,” Choudhury said. “Their relatives had to hold them.”
“This is very tragic,” added Ford. “It’s just a terrible way to go out. I feel bad for her family. Someone has to be really bad to do something like that.”
Huang’s family could not be reached at their home or at either store for comment.
Parrilla, who played basketball for Genesee Community College for a year, was hoping to become a business owner after his NBA career hopes seemed less likely, his mother told The Post.
“I’m trying to hold on,” Morales said. “I got a call from the police about my car. He called and I confirmed the car. I said the driver is my son.
“I found out he died from the detective,” she said. “I shouted.
“I want justice for my son,” she added. “I want whoever did this to come forward.”
A spokesman for Genesee Community College said in an email Thursday the school was “saddened by the tragic and untimely death of Jesse Parrilla, who played on the school basketball team for a year and continued to take online classes.
“During his time on campus in 2018-2019, Jesse was an energetic and popular student who has made a name for himself in many areas, including being a member of our men’s basketball team,” the statement said.
“It was not until spring 2021 that Jesse resumed his academic activities at the GCC as an online student,” it said. “Jesse is greatly missed by the GCC community…”
Additional reporting from Joe Marino and Oumou Fofana
https://nypost.com/2022/05/19/slain-ex-college-hoopster-was-bystander-in-nyc-gang-feud-sources/ Murdered ex-college hoopster was bystander in NYC gang feud: sources