When Lesandro “Junior” Guzman Feliz was 5 years old, he made a career decision. Enthralled by the flashing lights on a speeding police car he saw, he told his mother he wanted to become a detective in his birthplace of the Bronx.
A decade later, he moved a step closer to his dream in January when his mother, Leandra Feliz, signed him up for the New York Police Department’s Law Enforcement Explorers program, which shows young people what it is like to be a police officer.
“He would say, ‘Mommy, I know what I have to do. I’ve been going to the police and asking lots of questions,’ ” Ms. Feliz recalled her son telling her after he started attending the program.
More than two weeks after her 15-year-old son’s death, Ms. Feliz is still in disbelief that she will never again see him walk out of their Bronx apartment eagerly heading to an Explorers meeting.
On the night of June 20, while Junior was at a nearby bodega buying a beverage, police say members of the Dominican-American gang known as the Trinitarios dragged him from the store and stabbed him to death with knives and a machete. He staggered to nearby St. Barnabas Hospital as he bled from his neck before collapsing on the sidewalk. He later died at the hospital.
Police say he was targeted after the gang members mistook him for someone else. So far the NYPD has arrested 11 men in connection with his death.
The tragic killing, which was recorded by surveillance cameras, shocked the city and sparked a social media campaign, #JusticeForJunior. It has also drawn attention to the little-known NYPD program. Five days after the teen’s death, the average number of daily page views of the Explorer website rose to 18,500, up from an average of 11,000, according to the NYPD.
“It’s been hard, but I feel like we are motivated to put on the uniform more because it makes us feel like we’re honoring Junior in a way,” said Kemani Scott, 15, Junior’s friend and a member of the Explorers. “Everybody knows he was an Explorer now—so when they see this patch, they think of Junior.”
The program, which has more than 2,000 members, is geared toward teens and young adults. Each precinct has its own group. Junior belonged to the 45th Precinct’s team. Members meet once a week for three hours. They work on community service projects and go on outings together.
NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker has said the program is a key tool to improving diversity in the department’s ranks.
Kemani, who holds the rank of sergeant in the program, said Junior made shy children in the group more outgoing. Junior always volunteered for community service events and enjoyed group trips to the movies or a bowling alley, he said. One time Junior played music and danced to keep the group entertained when their adviser’s car broke down.
That adviser, John Grace, an auxiliary police officer, said Junior cared about fellow Explorers. He recalled taking the group to a horror film earlier this year and attempting to play a prank on them. When the movie finished, Mr. Grace rushed out of the theater and hid behind a corner. When he jumped out to scare the group in a hoodie, Junior punched him in the face.
He “was defending his peers,” Mr. Grace said. “I learned my lesson because I never did it again.”
Junior recently came home from an Explorers meeting and was excited to tell his family about a drill he did in which they practiced arresting bank robbers, Ms. Feliz said. The officers in the precinct played the robbers while the Explorers acted as the police.
“He would never miss it. He liked going,” Junior’s sister, Genesis Collado Feliz, said. “He’d be leaving and he’d say, I’m going to the Explorers program!”
Last week, crowds still gather around three memorials for the teenager that are near his family’s apartment in the Belmont section of the Bronx. Ashley Serrano, 19, flew from Florida to the Bronx to a paint a mural of Junior in his Explorers uniform. It is the third mural of him to go up since his death.
“It was someone’s son, someone’s friend and everything,” the business management student said. “When you see something that tragic happening right before your eyes, you want to do something.”
Ms. Feliz said she isn’t surprised by the outpouring for her son.
“My son was sweet, everyone can see in his face how happy he was,” she said. “He doesn’t have bad feelings; just very good feelings for everybody. If you met him, you would like him.”
Write to Zolan Kanno-Youngs at Zolan.Kanno-Youngs@wsj.com