The old minivan appeared near the school on a Tuesday morning, its Illinois plates the only thing out of place in the blue-collar suburbs of central Long Island. But as backpack-toting teenagers passed by on their way to Brentwood High, the van's doors suddenly swung open.
Out sprang members of the violent street gang MS-13, armed with baseball bats.
They attacked three 16-year-old students they suspected of being rivals before driving off. When police spotted the van in the same neighborhood the following afternoon and surrounded it at gunpoint, the MS-13 members were in the midst of trying to abduct a fourth.
"We were going to take him somewhere private and beat him to death," said Miguel Rivera, 20, according to a Suffolk County indictment.
The Dec. 6 arrests of Rivera and four others thwarted what police say would have been the sixth murder of a Brentwood High School student by MS-13 in less than two years.
But the incident also shook the school for another reason.
All but one of those arrested attended Brentwood, according to Suffolk County police. Three were unaccompanied minors who had been caught at the border and then placed in the community by a federal refugee program.
From New York to Virginia to Texas, schools in areas racked by MS-13 violence are now struggling with a sobering question. What to do when the gang isn't just in your community, but in your classrooms?
For the past year, the Trump administration has waged a nationwide crackdown on MS-13. Nowhere has this effort been more intense than in Suffolk County, where police say the gang has committed 27 murders since a surge of unaccompanied minors began arriving in 2013.
In his January State of the Union address, Trump recounted the story of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two Brentwood High students killed by MS-13 on Sept. 13, 2016.
"Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors and wound up in Kayla and Nisa's high school," the president said as the girls' parents, who had been invited to watch the speech at the Capitol, wiped away tears.
Faced with an influx of scores of unaccompanied minors and an uptick in gang violence, Brentwood High has been criticized both for doing too little and too much to address the problem.
A $110 million federal lawsuit, filed in December by Kayla's mother, claims administrators failed to protect her 16-year-old, allowing MS-13 to create an "environment filled with fear within the school."
Meanwhile, a class-action suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Trump administration alleges the school went too far, hastily labeling kids as gang members and leading to their wrongful imprisonment.
School officials say they walk a fine line, reporting illegal activity while respecting students' rights.
"We can see a gang member coming a mile away," said Carlos Sanchez, safety director for the Brentwood Free Union School District. "The problem is that it's not against the law to be a gang member, even if they identify themselves as MS.
Located 50 miles from Manhattan's skyscrapers one way and the Hamptons' oceanfront estates the other, Brentwood High School serves a community of 60,000 that was once largely Irish and Italian, then Puerto Rican and now nearly half Central American.
The sprawling school's corridors are a maze adorned with inspirational messages like "Look for Rainbows" and "Believe and Succeed." Only a few signs on classroom doors hint at the school's transformation in recent years.
"I work with and for undocumented students and families," one reads.
Starting in 2013, thousands of unaccompanied minors – most from Central America – began entering the United States illegally from Mexico each month, many turning themselves in to authorities. More than 200,000 have been detained, screened and then placed with relatives by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Nearly 5,000 have been sent to Suffolk County.
Schools are required by law to enroll and educate these students. At Brentwood High, the student population soared to 4,500, making it one of the largest high schools in the state.
"We had to open many more classes and hire more teachers," recalled Wanda Ortiz-Rivera, the school district's head of bilingual education.
But the challenge went beyond language. Many of the new students were years behind in their education. Some had never gone to school and couldn't read or write in any language.