A teen wanted on a murder charge in Montgomery County was caught this month in a raid by the U.S. Marshals Service on an apartment in North Carolina.
Montgomery County police were seeking Miguel Angel Lopez-Abrego, 19, since September in connection with a brutal killing in Wheaton Regional Park. Authorities could not apprehend him until a U.S. Marshals raid in Avery County in the western part of North Carolina on Nov 4.
Lopez-Abrego, now extradited back to Maryland, appeared by video for a bail review in Montgomery County District Court in Rockville on Wednesday. During the hearing, prosecutors shared some details of his arrest that were later confirmed by U.S. Marshals, though they could not immediately provide more information.
Judge Marina Sabett ordered Lopez-Abrego held without bail, noting the seriousness of the charges. Lopez-Abrego was allegedly one of as many as 10 MS-13 gang members who took part in a killing that likely occurred early this year.
Between December and March, the group allegedly lured the still-unidentified man from the Annapolis area to a wooded section of the Wheaton park, where they reportedly stabbed him more than 100 times, dismembered and decapitated him, cut out his heart and threw his body into a pre-dug grave.
Lopez-Abrego allegedly helped dig the hole, used a walkie-talkie to alert the other members when the victim was approaching them and delivered the first blow. Charging documents describe him as the first to stab the victim, thrusting a 15-inch knife into the man’s chest.
Lopez-Abrego has been charged with first-degree murder and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
He also faces an unrelated charge of theft of less than $100 in Montgomery County. He previously failed to appear in court on that charge.
Kelly McGann, an assistant state’s attorney prosecuting the case, argued that the violence of the homicide made bail out of the question.
“I don’t think there’s any possible way he wouldn’t be a danger if he were released,” he said at the bail review.
McGann said there was an immigration detainer against Lopez-Abrego.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Carissa Cutrell confirmed that the agency lodged a detainer on him Nov. 4, the day of his arrest. She wrote in an email that he is from El Salvador and is in the U.S. illegally.
The 19-year-old has been homeless for a year. John Lavigne, a public defender representing Lopez-Abrego, said he previously went to a local high school, but felt he had to leave school to financially support his family.
Lavigne said he didn’t have much else to say, but he noted that the only apparent evidence against him was another MS-13 member implicating him to police.
“We’ll see what else the state comes up with,” Lavigne said in court. “But that’s what they put in the statement of charges.”
In charging documents, police describe a yet-unnamed source in the gang who identified Lopez-Abrego by a police photo.
Detectives wrote that the source led them to the body in Wheaton on Sept. 5 and provided credible information for homicide investigations in Frederick and Anne Arundel counties.
In late September, police interviewed Lopez-Abrego when he was stopped in a car with a man who was arrested that day in connection with a homicide near Annapolis. Police asked Lopez-Abrego about the Wheaton killing, but he denied involvement, and police were unable to locate him until the November raid.
Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks on Wednesday would not confirm if police had identified or put warrants out for others involved in the homicide.
“This investigation is ongoing,” he told Bethesda Beat. “Hopefully, this is just the first arrest and others who are involved and responsible will be arrested as well.”
Starks said investigators are still “working to confirm” the identity of the man killed.
Police have released scant information about him. He was about 5 foot 2 and 126 pounds. He had on his body a Laurel church sweatshirt and soccer shorts—both now brown and tattered—and a rosary.
The man was Hispanic with short, dark brown hair and a missing bottom tooth that might have been noticeable when he spoke or smiled.