WASHINGTON - Eleven suspected MS-13 gang members are facing criminal charges after they are accused of murdering two teenagers in Fairfax County.
On Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office unsealed an indictment naming the defendants in this high-profile case. Nine of the suspects are being held by U.S. marshals, one is in custody in Fairfax County and the other is believed to have fled the country.
The two victims, ages 14 and 17, were killed in the same manner just one month apart in August and September 2016. They were lured into Holmes Run Park and were murdered. Then their bodies were buried. The remains of those teenagers were discovered several months later in March.
According to prosecutors, the suspects charged are associates of the violent international street gang, MS-13. One rule that the gang encourages members and associates is to fight and kill rivals known as “chavalas.”
FOX 5 obtained court records that claim these suspects lured their first victim into the park because he was a rival. The second was reportedly killed for cooperating with authorities.
Elmer Zelaya Martinez, Erick Palacios Ruiz, Ronald Herrera Contreras, Henry Zelaya Martinez, Oscar Contreras Aguilar, Yonathan Melgar Martinez, Pablo Miguel Barrera Velasco, Anderson Villatoro, Francisco Avila Avalos, Fredys Baires Abarca and Josue Vigil Mejia are all charged with conspiracy to kidnap. Aguilar is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
All of the men are in their 20s and from El Salvador.
Jay Lanham, the executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, said he is not surprised with the ages of the victims.
“If you go back to the late 90s, early 2000s when we first started seeing the gang surge, it was primarily adults,” he said. “We rarely saw juveniles involved. Fast forward to 2013, 2014 – we started seeing these juveniles becoming involved more so in these gang crimes.”
That goes for both victims and gang members. Lanham said MS-13 targets youths for a number of reasons. They are more vulnerable and juveniles are treated differently by the courts. Members will entice them to commit the crimes so they are not prosecuted as adults.
Lanham warns if you do not think this problem affects you – think again.
“The problem is here,” said Lanham. “These kids are here, the gang members are here. What we don’t want to do is have the culture entrenched here like it is in El Salvador and I have been there. I have seen what has happened there and it’s a monumental task to try to stop what is happening down there.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office told FOX 5 that more charges are coming. They are seeking approval from the attorney general to indict these suspects for “death-eligible” offenses, which would include charges such as murder that would include the death penalty.
It is unknown when a superseding indictment will come down. It is also unknown when there will be a trial date.
The next hearing for the suspects is scheduled for Sept. 7.