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Unsolved killings of woman and pal a climax in feud


A small hill on a Lower East Side street is the dividing line between two rival gangs whose disses have graduated from drill rap video threats to real life violence, including the stray bullet slaying of an innocent man.

But the fierce rivalry between the Up The Hill and Down the Hill gangs existed largely under the radar until Nikki Huang, robbed of her purse, sought out help from friends in one of the gangs — setting in motion eight hours of terrifying tit-for- tattoo violence.

The mayhem would leave three dead, including Huang, a 23-year-old nail salon owner, and three others shot and wounded across three boroughs. Nobody has been arrested for the terrifying wave of bloodshed.

The explosion of gang violence started with a simple mugging: The armed robbery of Huang’s pricey Louis Vuitton purse on a neighborhood street.


Around 9 pm May 15, Huang texted her father saying she’d just been pistol-whipped in the hold-up on Jackson St. near the restaurant her family runs. She advised him to change the locks to the family’s apartment de ella — the last he would ever hear from her.

Instead of going to police, Huang reached out to a pal in the local Up the Hill gang. She hoped her connections from her in the tight-knit community would help her get her things back, including $500 from a paycheck she’d just cashed, her ID from her and her house keys from her.

Retributions was swift. Brandon Atkinson was shot to death as payback on Avenue D and E. Third Street about 11:15 pm May 15, cops said. The NYPD gave Atkinson’s age as 39 after he died, but he was actually 20, the Daily News has confirmed.

Though Atkinson was not the mugger, a high-ranking police source said his death instantly amped up the clash between the crews because his half-brother is a revered older original gang member of what is now known as the Down the Hill crew.

“They hit him, and he dies,” said the source. “Then it goes to DefCon 4.”

Huang and a friend were kidnapped that night and before dawn they were executed by Down the Hill members, police believe. Their charred bodies were discovered inside a burned-out car dumped near a Bronx golf course about 4:15 am on May 16. Three more people were wounded before the bullets stopped flying on the Lower East Side.

The shocking spasm of brutality was a dramatic escalation in a yearslong feud between rival crews with territories stretching from Pike St. to E. Sixth St. The dividing line between the two crews is a “hill” — a rise in the road on Grand St. near Madison St., an NYPD source told The News.

For years, Huang had worked behind the counter at Wa Lung Kitchen, her family’s Chinese restaurant on Grand St. that sits right on the dividing line between the two territories. The decades-old eatery is frequented by residents from both sections of the hill.

“I just want them to get the killer,” Huang’s father, Don Huang, told The News in an exclusive interview while working at the restaurant recently. “Whoever did this, they might know us, too. . . They may come here and get food.”

A memorial for Nikki Huang, 23, is outside the WA Lung Kitchen Resturant in Lower East Side Manhattan after her body was found in a burned car in the Bronx.

The bloodshed in the years leading up to the mugging includes the stray bullet slaying of James Weeks, a 25-year-old father of four, on July 13, 2019. He was an innocent bystander shot by a gang member aiming for a rival, police now say.

Weeks, who worked for Citibank, was hanging out with friends when he was shot in the face behind the Lillian Wald Houses about 2:45 am — the same location where Atkinson would be slain nearly three years later in payback for the purse snatching.

“It was retaliation for another shooting that had happened,” Jessica Santos, Weeks’ widow, told the Daily News this week. “He wasn’t related to anything. He was just coming over to hang out with some friends. … There was a bunch of people in the park because it was a nice Friday night.”

Accused shooter Malik Facey, now 22, is awaiting trial for murder for Weeks’ slaying.

Growing up in the neighborhood, Santos, 36, says she’s always been aware of the local gang tensions that would claim her husband’s life — and is disheartened by the new string of shootings.

“They miss their dad,” she said of her four kids. “It’s scary because when you go outside; you don’t know what’s going to happen now.”

Huang’s father believes his daughter was just a random robbery victim and is perplexed how she could have died so violently in a gang dispute.

“How was my daughter involved?” Huang asked The News. “Maybe she was just going out, hanging out with her friends from her.”

An NYPD source says Nikki Huang was not a gang member but had friends in both crews, more so in Up the Hill. When she reached out to friends in Up the Hill after the holdup, it is unclear to cops if she asked for retribution or the local gang took it upon themselves to exact revenge.

“Somewhere in between,” a high-ranking NYPD source indicated.

An hour after Atkinson’s slaying, in what police sources describe as retaliation for his death, a gunman shot a 22-year-old man in the wrist and an innocent 19-year-old bystander in the leg in a park behind the Rutgers Houses near madison st.

Huang was kidnapped at some point during that night by furious Down the Hill members and forced to lure a 27-year-old man that Down the Hill was after from his home in Ridgewood, Queens, at 2:20 am May 16. A waiting gunman shot that victim in the left side of his face and arm before fleeing.

The target escaped with his life and is recovering.

“I just want to leave this whole unfortunate situation in the past and move forward,” that victim told The News Saturday.

Huang and 22-year-old longtime pal Jesse Parrilla, meanwhile, were driven away and grossly executed, both shot in the head. When their bodies were found they were charred beyond recognition inside a burned-out Honda Accord belonging to Parrilla’s mom on Shore Road near Pelham Split Rock Golf Course in the Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park.

Parrilla, a promising former college basketball player, was collateral damage, killed only because he was hanging out with Huang, his friend since middle school, investigators believe.

Parrilla worked for Uber Eats and was going to start a new job in the mailroom of Bellevue Hospital. He had attended Genesee Community College, where he played point guard for the school’s basketball team, and dreamed of shooting hoops for the NBA.

Memorials for the three victims rose quickly, just blocks away from each other on the Lower East Side.

Outside Wa Lung Kitchen, where Huang had been a familiar face behind the counter, a tribute with photos of the slain woman draws the attention of passersby.

Only half a mile away, just north of the Williamsburg Bridge, a memorial full of candles, photos and scrawled messages at the corner of Avenue D and E. Third St. depicts Atkinson as a loving dad to an infant boy, also named Brandon.

“It devastated me, once I heard the news,” said Charles Baines, 48, an uncle of Atkinson’s girlfriend who recalled giving the young man advice from time to time, trying to help him stay on the right path.

“All I was able to do was give him the best feedback I could give a young person.”

Parrilla is memorialized just three blocks away at Avenue D and E. Sixth Street, with signed basketballs, sneakers and an award he won for his hoop skills nestled among candles and flowers.

His mother Michelle Morales told The News last week that nothing seemed amiss the night her only child took the car they shared to do his laundry, play some basketball and hang out with his friends. When it got late, she tried calling his phone over and over but never got through.

“These children are killing each other over nonsense, over areas of blocks,” she said. “I can barely sleep, knowing that my son was in pain.”

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Huang’s family, similarly struggling to make sense of their loss, followed a weekly Buddhist mourning ritual to direct her wandering soul to the gates of heaven. Ella’s younger brothers, ages 12 and 21, miss their sister, who was working so hard because she was trying to save money for her own apartment.

The family started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover the cost of her funeral, business losses related to the death and grief counseling for her youngest brother.

Her mother cries every morning, so used to seeing her daughter at their home in a co-op on Grand St.

In addition to the restaurant where she worked to help her family, Huang’s parents purchased her a nail salon, Nails by Nikki, to run just a block away.

Huang’s father, determined to keep the family restaurant open, grapples with his pain as an endless stream of longtime customers come by to express their condolences and share theories about who may have killed his daughter.

“Everyone says something different,” the bewildered father said. “Everybody grew up here, all the kids. It’s very sad to see this happen.”

With Janon Fisher, Kerry Burke and Larry McShane



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