WOODBRIDGE, Va. - The head of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force said 80 percent of gang recruitment is taking place in middle and high schools in the region.
The task force is focusing on MS-13, as it describes Northern Virginia as a hub for the violent gang based in El Salvador.
MS-13 often recruits young people at schools as well as online. In the United States, girls are being recruited.
The task force is recommending parents to pay extra attention to their children, especially on social media.
"They are brought in for a lot of different reasons," said Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force Executive Director Jay Lanham. "A lot of times, they are the ones carrying the weapons for the gang members. Obviously, they are used for sex trafficking, prostitution, luring rival gang members out so they can be assaulted or killed. So we have seen that go up some, but not tremendously. What is really concerning though are the amount of juveniles involved in gangs, which we never used to see.
He added, "The schools obviously are very much a concern. That is where the recruiting is going on and we saw this really pick up when unaccompanied minors started showing up here in larger numbers."
Lanham said he was in El Salvador two weeks ago and MS-13 is engrained there. He said their goal is to prevent that from happening in Northern Virginia.
MS-13 often target young recruits because if they are convicted, they often face light jail sentences due to their age, according to Lanham.