NEW YORK (PIX11) — Michelle Morales knew her son was likely dead long before the medical examiner’s office confirmed the truth on May 17. She said that’s because she received a flurry of gruesome pictures on the morning of May 16.

Jesse Parrilla with mom Michelle Morales (Courtesy of Michelle Morales)

“Someone took a photo of him in the car,” Morales told PNEWS10’s sister station in New York City. “I saw my son’s bones.”

On the night of May 15, a series of shootings signaled some kind of revenge feud was playing out in Manhattan’s East Village and Lower East Side, and Maspeth in Queens. The images came by text in the hours after her son, Jesse Parrilla, and his friend, Nikki Huang, both 22, were discovered in the driver and passenger seats of his burning 2020 silver Honda near a golf course in the Bronx.

Police believe she was initially targeted by a downtown gang because she complained to a rival group that she’d been mugged. Huang’s family owns a restaurant and nail salon on Grand Street, so she knew a lot of people in the neighborhood.

Around 1 a.m., Parrilla, a college basketball player, was carjacked as he dropped off Huang at her apartment on Grand Street. An alleged member of the “Down the Hill” gang had already been shot dead in the East Village, and two members of “Up the Hill” were shot and wounded on Pike Street.

Investigators believe Parrilla and Huang were driven to Maspeth, where another reputed gang member was shot on the left side of his face as he took out the trash at 2:20 a.m. About this time, Parrilla answered his mother’s repeated phone calls and said, “I love you, Mom,” before the call abruptly dropped. He had told his mother he was in Brooklyn.

Police said Parrilla and Huang were both shot in the head before the Honda was set on fire near the golf course in a quiet section of the Bronx near Pelham Parkway. The horrific crime scene was discovered at 4:30 a.m. on May 16. 

“I feel disrespected on his death, how it happened,” said the mother, a single mom to Parrilla when he was born and she was 18. “I deserve answers … He’s all I had. I sacrificed and lived for him.”

Morales said Parrilla, her only child, was taking real estate courses and also finishing up business classes at Genessee Community College upstate, where he played basketball. “He wasn’t into gangs; he wasn’t affiliated with any of that stuff,” she said.  

On June 28, on what would have been Parrilla’s 23rd birthday, his mother held a small gathering in his honor—complete with a cake that had angel wings attached. “Jesse was a humble kid,” she said. “From what I know, Jesse never had a problem with anyone.”

A birthday celebration honoring what would have been Jesse Parrilla’s 23rd birthday. (Credit: Michelle Morales)