BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Hundreds of MS-13 gang members are currently active in Maryland. The gang is known for its brutality; using machetes to behead vulnerable, young victims.
While they’ve been mostly active in D.C. suburbs, MS-13 is increasingly spreading into the Baltimore area.
Last July, MS-13 gang members stalked a man in Towson. Ten people were charged with attacking Daniel Cuellar with a machete, brazenly killing him on Loch Raven Boulevard where a small memorial still sits.
In Anne Arundel County, Jenni Rivera Lopez was strangled. Her body was dismembered with machetes and buried in a shallow grave.
Jose Hernandez Portillo was also murdered by MS-13. His body was found in Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis.
Marlon Cruz-Flores is serving a 38-year sentence for plotting to kill a cab driver on Annapolis Neck Road. The victim survived after being ambushed with machetes. Several of his fingers, however, were cut off.
“One of the typical tools they use is a machete,” a police expert said. “They use it to dismember folks, behead folks.”
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren was granted a rare one-on-one interview with the FBI and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Cheyvoryea Gibson.
Hellgren: “What makes MS-13 stand out compared to other gangs?”
Gibson: “MS-13 stands out because of the gruesome nature of the violent crimes they commit. It takes a very deranged person to behead and dismember someone.”
WJZ has learned the gang has increasingly spread north from longtime strongholds in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Gang-related graffiti was found in Annapolis and areas north and south of Baltimore as well.
Gibson: “We are starting to see a presence spreading throughout Maryland and areas where we traditionally have not.”
Hellgren: “Are they in Baltimore City proper that you’re aware of?”
Gibson: “Yes, they are active in Baltimore, yes.”
WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren learned members sell drugs and extort money for business, often on orders from leaders in El Salvador who take the profits.
The gang is also recruiting in area schools. A 15-year-old Annapolis High School student was beaten for refusing to join MS-13.
The mother of Alexandra Reyes, a teenager from Montgomery County murdered by the gang, had this warning.
“In their schools, check their friends because they’re inside.” Reyes’ mother said. “She was so sweet. She trusted in everyone and that, that was her problem.”
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One of her daughter’s killers was Venus Romero Iraheta.
In Iraheta’s confession video—she recounts her chilling final words to the victim.
“And you’re going to remember me until the day we see each other in Hell,” Iraheta said. “Don’t forget my name.”
The gang is so pervasive, Maryland became the first state to set up a tipline where people can report activity and tipsters can remain anonymous.
“We want people who are being victimized by the gang to know and understand that [it] can end,” US Attorney Robert Hur said.
Gathering intelligence is hard because many of MS-13’s targets are immigrants in the U.S. illegally—and fear police.
Hellgren: “Why Maryland?”
Gibson: “The community is really not safe whenever you have MS-13 members walking free among us,”
Despite the difficulty, federal authorities are determined to eradicate this violent threat in Maryland.