Updated at 10:50 a.m. Nov. 22: An unidentified man found dead in Wheaton Regional Park in September was stabbed more than 100 times, decapitated and dismembered, and his heart was cut out, in what police describe as an MS-13 gang-related slaying.
On Tuesday night, Montgomery County police announced the first arrest in the case. Miguel Angel Lopez-Abrego, 19, was apprehended in North Carolina and extradited to Montgomery County. He has been charged with first-degree murder.
Nine other people are believed to be involved in the killing, according to court documents.
Few details are known about the man whose decomposing body was found Sept. 5. He was Hispanic and about 5 feet 2 inches, and he wore the sweatshirt of a Laurel church. Police say he had a missing bottom tooth, which might have been visible when he spoke or smiled.
In court documents, detectives describe learning of his body through a yet-unnamed informant in MS-13, an international criminal gang with a presence in the county and the region. Police say the informant led detectives to the body in minutes and has provided information in gang-related homicides in Frederick and Anne Arundel counties.
Suspected MS-13 members have been charged with the murder of Cristopher Funes Guerra, a 20-year-old whose body was found in a Silver Spring park the day after police discovered the body in Wheaton. Other members of the gang from the county have been charged in killing near Frederick and Annapolis.
The informant, who police refer to only as “INF,” told detectives that he and nine other members of the gang planned for about two weeks to lure the victim from the Annapolis area to the wooded area of the Montgomery County park where they would kill him, according to documents.
Investigators determined the man might have been killed as many as 11 months ago, sometime between December and March, but the source said the killing occurred early last spring.
The source identified Lopez-Abrego, nicknamed “Timido,” by a police photograph and said he helped to dig a grave and took part in the stabbing, police wrote in charging documents.
Before the victim arrived, Lopez-Abrego waited on the edge of the woods with a hand-held walkie-talkie, ready to tell the other gang members when the man arrived, the informant told police. He also said Lopez-Abrego was the first to stab the man, thrusting a 15-inch knife through his chest.
The group then stabbed him dozens more times and cut apart his body before dumping him in a hole they had already dug, according to documents. They allegedly threw his heart in the grave, as well.
Montgomery County police patrol officers stopped Lopez-Abrego, whose address is unconfirmed, on Sept. 29, when he was a passenger in a car driven by another alleged MS-13 member who was wanted for a murder in Anne Arundel County, according to documents. Detectives interviewed Lopez-Abrego, but he denied involvement in the Wheaton murder.
After that, police could not locate him until Nov. 4, when he was found with two other MS-13 members from the Washington, D.C., area in North Carolina, according to documents. Both of the other men were wanted on unrelated murder arrest warrants.
Lopez-Abrego is scheduled to have a bail hearing in Montgomery County District Court in Rockville Wednesday.
Police have asked anyone with information about the identity of the body to call 240-773-5070 or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 866-411-TIPS (8477).