Montgomery County law enforcement officials are concerned the murder of a Gaithersburg man in Montgomery Village earlier this month and other recent violence may be a sign that the MS-13 gang is rebuilding in the area.
The murder led to the arrests of three county teens and warnings from Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy that the violent El Salvador-based gang may be recruiting again.
“It’s pretty evident based on the intelligence I’m being provided, that they are attempting to reestablish a toehold in the metropolitan area and specifically back here in Montgomery County,” McCarthy told NBC4 last week.
The gang arrived in the Washington, D.C.-area in the 1990s and spread to Silver Spring, Wheaton and the Langley Park area of Prince George’s County in the 2000s, according to a 2009 legislative report on gangs in Maryland.
In the early 2000s the gang was targeted as part of a concerted effort by local law enforcement to jail leaders and members, but The Washington Post reports police believe the latest violence may be part of “MS-13’s drive to renew itself.”
Prosecutors said the three teens suspected in the Nov. 1 murder of 22-year-old Roberto Gutierrez Cruz killed him execution-style and left him in the woods off of Contour Road. The suspects were identified as Luis Avelar Morales, 17, Daniel Adonai Ramos, 19, and Juan Espinal Rapalo, 18—all from the Gaithersburg area.
One of the suspects was reportedly arrested as he walked out of Gaithersburg High School, according to WAMU 88.5. County police said the murder of Cruz was carried out because he was believed to be a member of a rival gang.
The Washington Post reports MS-13 members have been arrested in other recent murder cases in Virginia including that of a 17-year-old gunned down in Sterling in September and that of a man whose body showed signs of trauma when it was found decomposing in March in a wooded area in Herndon.
The arrests in those cases were followed by a guilty plea Friday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt by a Wheaton man who admitted to murdering a man in Frederick and attempting to murder three teens in Hyattsville on behalf of MS-13 in 2013 and 2014.
Aldair Garcia-Miranda, 22, admitted to killing Merlin Ejardo Alvarez Garcia, 23, in November 2013 after being instructed to do so by gang leaders in El Salvador, according to court documents. He and another alleged gang member shot and stabbed Alvarez Garcia after convincing him to follow them into woods in Frederick to smoke marijuana. Alvarez Garcia had fled from El Salvador to escape an execution order by the gang only to later be killed by Garcia-Miranda, federal prosecutors said.
Garcia-Miranda also admitted to shooting at three teenaged boys who were walking on 30th Avenue in Hyattsville on July 30, 2014. In that shooting, Garcia and two other alleged gang members spotted the boys, who were suspected of harassing a friend of the gang, and opened fire on them. Two of the boys, ages 15 and 17, were shot several times, but survived, according to court documents.
In Garcia-Miranda’s indictment, federal prosecutors said the gang operates the “Normandie” clique in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. To gain money, members typically extort businesses, distribute drugs and commit robberies, prosecutors wrote.
In June, a leader of the Normandie clique—Noe Machado-Erazo, 32, of Wheaton—was found guilty in federal court of racketeering and murder charges after he was linked to a March 2010 murder in which the body of Felipe Leonardo Enriquez, 25, was dumped on a sewage utility property near the line dividing Montgomery and Howard counties.
In the FBI’s 2013 National Gang Report, federal investigators wrote that an MS-13 gang leader in Montgomery County was charged with operating a juvenile prostitution ring comprised of young girls and using alcohol and drugs to make them more willing to engage in sex acts for money.
The presence of the gang belies the stereotype of the county as a wealthy, liberal enclave, which was noted last weekend by Montgomery County Council member Nancy Navarro in an opinion article published in the Post.
Navarro wrote that the recently announced Bravo TV show, The Real Housewives of Potomac, most likely wouldn’t focus on the parts of the county struggling with economic and public safety issues. “You won’t see the young man being recruited to join the MS-13 street gang or the teenager walking to food bank because her mother is holding down three jobs trying to make ends meet for the family,” Navarro wrote.