MS-13 resurgence? 3 murders in DC area tied to gang

FOX 5 Chief Investigative Reporter Emily Miller reports.

- There have been several violent crimes in the D.C. area that have been allegedly tied to the gang MS-13. Is this a widespread resurgence of their power? We took a look at how the gang from El Salvador is being tied to these local crimes.

MS-13 is known for the most violent tactics and gang initiations.

Earlier this month, police found the body of 22-year-old Roberto Cruz in a wooded area in Gaithersburg. Police say it was an execution-style murder. In court, prosecutors said he was forced on his knees before being shot and killed.

Police said they were able to identify all the three suspects arrested -- all teenagers -- as MS-13 from interviews.

“There are identifiers,” said Capt. Paul Liquorie, director of Montgomery County Police Department’s Special Investigations Division. “One of the clear markings is tattoos. Self-identification by the members themselves is one of the things. Someone who is MS-13 will not identify themselves as being from another gang.”

Over in Virginia, 17-year-old Daniel Centeno-Miranda was shot to death while he was walking to the bus stop in Sterling. The teenage victim came to America from El Salvador.

Police arrested three men all under 20 years old. They are also all from El Salvador. The victim and the suspects are believed to be connected to the MS-13 gang.

“The reason kids join gangs is the same reason they turn to drugs and alcohol, it’s the same reason they turn to other forms of delinquency -- something is usually missing in the home environment,” said Ed Ryan, gang prevention coordinator for Fairfax County. “As kids, they’re looking to belong to something.”

Back in March, a 22-year-old man was brutally murdered with knives and a machete in a park in Herndon, according to police. An 18-year-old was charged with killing Adolfo Rivas Leiva as part of MS-13 gang activities.

Local and national law enforcement are working together on the larger scale of this gang's resurgence.

“MS-13 is a transnational criminal organization,” said Capt. Liquorie. “It transpires across the nation as well as all the way into Central America, so that's one of the bigger things. So there's a money flow, there's a drug flow, there's weapon flow among all those entities both across the country as well as internationally, and that makes them one of the more dangerous gangs as well.”

Meanwhile, the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force is trying to help young people get out of these gangs.

“We deal with a multitude of gangs within the juvenile court, said Ryan. “MS-13 happens to be one of them. But there are several others. It’s a roller coaster. It ebbs and flows. There could be different reasons for that, but from our perspective, we just try to educate the public, oversee different prevention and intervention programs for kids who are involved and who are at risk to join, and we do the best we can to help them avoid that dangerous lifestyle.”

The FBI said MS-13 mostly targets middle and high school students for membership and most are from El Salvador or first generation from Central American parents.

The FBI refers to MS-13 as a "mobile street gang" that is growing and is up to 10,000 members across the country.

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