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NYC gangbanger arrested in deaths of college basketball player, woman found shot in torched car: cops

Police are seen at the scene of a car fire with two dead victims on Shore Road in Pelham Bay Par, near the Pelham Bay and Split Rock Golf Course in The Bronx, Monday, May 16, 2022.
A Lower East Side gangbanger was busted Tuesday morning for his role in the deaths of a former college basketball player and his female friend who were gunned down and set on fire inside a car in the Bronx nearly two years ago, cops and sources said.

A Manhattan gangbanger with 15 prior arrests was busted in the murders of a former college basketball player and a woman found shot in a torched car two years ago, cops and sources said.

Alleged “Down the Hill” gang member Rahel Cuya, 24, faces a slew of charges in connection to the May 2022 slayings of Jesse Parrilla and Nikki Huang — who were found in a burning car near a Bronx golf course, cops and law enforcement sources said.

Cuya – who was indicted last week – provided his own ride to be used as the getaway car and was at the scene when both kidnappings happened, the sources said.

Police discovered the horribly charred bodies of Jesse Parrilla and Nikki Huang, both 22, when they responded to a call of a car fire on Shore Road near the Pelham Split Rock Course before dawn May 16.

Rahel Cuya is allegedly a member of the “Down the Hill” gang. Tomas E.Gaston
Rahel Cuya is allegedly a member of the “Down the Hill” gang. Tomas E.Gaston
Cuya faces top charges of murder and manslaughter, police said. Robert Mecea
Cuya faces top charges of murder and manslaughter, police said. Robert Mecea

The two had already been dead when Parrilla’s mom’s Honda Accord was torched, authorities said at the time. Parilla had been shot in the head and chest and Huang had been shot in the head and neck, according to cops and sources.

Law enforcement sources told The Post that the victims were executed in retribution for Huang complaining to her gangster friends that rival gang members had stolen her purse near a Lower East Side housing project.

The two groups — simply named the “Up the Hill” gang and the “Down the Hill” gang — have allegedly been involved in a territorial dispute that spans decades, sources said.

The gangs hail from opposite sides of Houston Street on the East Side. Although they’ve taken shots at each other in the past, they rarely murdered one another, sources said.

Huang, who worked at Wa Lung Kitchen, her family’s Chinese restaurant on Grand Street, was mugged in early May by suspected members of the Down the Hill gang, police sources said.

Nikki Huang, 22 — one of the murder victims — was previously robbed by suspected members of the Down the Hill gang, sources said. GoFundMe
Nikki Huang, 22 — one of the murder victims — was previously robbed by suspected members of the Down the Hill gang, sources said. GoFundMe
Victim Jesse Parrilla, 22, played basketball for a year at Genesee Community College and had known Huang since middle school.
Victim Jesse Parrilla, 22, played basketball for a year at Genesee Community College and had known Huang since middle school.

But instead of going to the cops, she allegedly sought justice through her pals in the Up the Hill gang.

A series of shootings followed, which culminated when Down the Hill gang members grabbed Huang and Parrilla while they were hanging out together.

Huang and Parrilla were driven to the Bronx, where they were allegedly executed inside the car and set ablaze.

Jamel Sanders was the first suspect arrested in connection to the May 2022 murder, cops said. Robert Miller
Jamel Sanders was the first suspect arrested in connection to the May 2022 murder, cops said. Robert Miller

Reached by The Post by phone at the restaurant Tuesday, Nikki’s father Dong Huang said “it’s about time” the arrest was made — the second in the case after another man was arrested last year.

“It’s been a while and they were still out there,” he said. “Hopefully we can get the main guy too.

“I am just happy. I’m glad that they made the arrest,” Huang added. “They’re still working on it though.”

He described his daughter as “a lovely girl” who grew up on the Lower East Side and was “always helping someone.”

“It’s been very hard for the family,” the grieving dad said.

“Every time when I see pictures of her I still can’t get over it,” added Huang of the brutal 2022 murder.

“I’m very emotional right now. I don’t think I can talk right now,” he said before hanging up.

Parrilla, who played basketball for a year at Genesee Community College and had known Huang since middle school – wasn’t involved in the dispute and sources said he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“He was a good-hearted person just helping a friend out with a ride,” Parilla’s mom said through tears after his murder. “I don’t think he was aware of anything. He had no idea what was going on because he would never put himself in a situation like that.”

Cuya was set to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Bronx Criminal Court on a slew of charges including two counts each of murder and manslaughter – as well as kidnapping, arson, robbery and grand larceny, cops said.

Mothers of both Jesse Parrilla and Nikki Huang depart a Bronx courtroom together after Jahmel Sanders, 31, is arraigned. Robert Miller
Mothers of both Jesse Parrilla and Nikki Huang depart a Bronx courtroom together after Jahmel Sanders, 31, is arraigned. Robert Miller

He was picked up by members of the Bronx Violent Felony Squad and Gun Violence Suppression Division in front of the NYCHA building where he lived, the sources said.

Cuya has 15 prior arrests, dating back to 2013, which authorities called “mostly property-related crimes.”

Most recently, he was arrested this past Feb. 3 for possession of stolen property, authorities said during a media briefing Tuesday.

He was also busted in July of 2022 for possession of a gun, police said.

Cuya is the second person arrested in connection to the murders, according to police.

Jahmel Sanders, 31, was arrested about a year ago for his role in the killings, cops said.

He was charged with murder, manslaughter, robbery, grand larceny, kidnapping, arson, criminal use of a firearm and criminal possession of a weapon, police said.

Sanders is being held without bail on Rikers Island, with his next court appearance scheduled for March 19, Department of Corrections records show.

Steven Santiago, 34, is still being sought for questioning in connection to Huang and Parrilla’s deaths, police said.

The NYPD previously announced that a $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and indictment.