Dec 20 - ‘People in fear’: MS-13 menaces a community 7 miles from the White House

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Dec 20 - ‘People in fear’: MS-13 menaces a community 7 miles from the White House

By Michael E. Miller and Dan Morse December 20 at 8:00 AM


It took Abigail Bautista less than a month of living in Langley Park to learn that her new neighborhood in Maryland had its own set of laws, written not in statutes but in gang graffiti and blood.

The Guatemalan mother of five was pushing a cart of merchandise along University Boulevard one winter morning in late 2012 when three young men approached.

“Do you know who we are?” one asked her in Spanish.

Bautista shook her head.

“We are La Mara Salvatrucha,” he said. “And here, there are rules.”

Pay $60 “rent” per week or there would be trouble, he said. Undocumented and afraid of being deported if she went to police, Bautista began handing over the cash.

She had heard of the international street gang growing up in Central America, where MS-13, as it’s known, controls cities through brutality and corruption. But she had lived for the better part of a decade in the United States without crossing its path.

Now, she realized, she’d unwittingly moved into MS-13 territory a mere seven miles from the White House.

As the gang has grown in strength in recent years, so has its sway over communities across the country. From Boston to Northern Virginia to Houston, a string of grisly MS-13 murders has highlighted its resurgence, drawing a response from the White House.

“One by one, we’re liberating our American towns,” President Trump said this summer in Long Island, where MS-13 has been linked to more than a dozen recent k*llings.

Left out of Trump’s speeches, however, is the fact that most of the gang’s victims are not Americans but undocumented immigrants like Bautista. And when it comes to the gang’s infamous motto of “kill, r*pe, control,” it’s the third — enforced daily through extortion and intimidation — that defines life for some immigrants in places such as Langley Park.

“They are preying on the communities that they are living in,” said Michael McElhenny, a supervisory special agent for the FBI in Maryland.

More than a decade after a string of MS-13 k*llings shook the heavily Latino neighborhood, Langley Park is still struggling to shake off the gang’s influence. Despite aggressive policing, the area continues to be plagued by MS-13 drug dealing, prostitution, robbery, extortion and murder, according to court records and interviews with residents, activists, prosecutors and gang experts, as well as local and federal law enforcement officials.

Deputy Chief Sammy Patel of the Prince George’s County police said years of anti-gang operations have broken MS-13’s “stranglehold” on Langley Park and prevented the spike in k*llings seen elsewhere.

“We always target MS-13,” he said. “They aren’t running amok.”

Patel said there was a slight decline in violent crime in Langley Park between 2013 and 2016, although he acknowledged that the gang remains active in the neighborhood.

In fact, prosecutors consider Langley Park a “hub” of MS-13 activity and say the gang was likely responsible for all five slayings there in the past four years.

Bautista wasn’t the only one extorted by MS-13.

One of her neighbors was told to pay the gang or she’d find her husband’s body in a dumpster. Another said she was given days to come up with $1,500 earlier this year or MS-13 would k*ll her children in Central America.

[The satanic history of MS-13]

The gang’s operations in Langley Park range from opportunistic to organized. Members sow terror with random a*saults on residents and brazen attacks on rivals. In one six-month stretch last year, MS-13 k*lled four members of other gangs in neighboring Lewisdale, according to court records. The gang also runs brothels and extortion operations, the proceeds from which it sends to leaders imprisoned abroad.

State and federal prosecutors have targeted MS-13 in the area. Over the past year, at least 22 members have been charged in federal racketeering cases in Maryland, with many of their alleged crimes taking place in and around Langley Park. But the gang has aggressively tried to recruit replacements.

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