MS-13 gang members in California butchered and bludgeoned victims with machetes, knives, baseball bats, and pipes, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday.
22 members of the notorious gang are accused of taking part in a series of gruesome killings on their rivals in the Angeles National Forest.
In one of the killings, they are accused of cutting a victim’s heart out of his chest.
Most of the gang members are new arrivals to the U.S., according to authorities.
Mercurynews.com reports: Other charges include racketeering and drug trafficking, with the MS-13 members also accused of extorting rival gang members, street vendors and business owners – members of local immigrant communities – using violence to intimidate them.
The gang members used social media, mostly Facebook Messenger, to orchestrate assaults, post gang signs and even to plot murders, prosecutors said.
Paul Delacourt, who heads the FBI’s office in Los Angeles, described the killings as “medieval-style violence.”
“We haven’t seen this level of violence associated with MS-13 in Southern California,” Delacourt said.
Other officials said the surge in killings reflected a shift in policy for the gang’s Fulton clique operating in the Valley, whose members required new recruits to kill other gang members to gain entry to the group.
The indictment included charges for six of the clique’s suspected killings since 2017. Four occurred in the Angeles National Forest above Sylmar, authorities said, with a fifth murder committed in the Malibu hills and a sixth at Whitsett Sports Park in Valley Glen.
Sixteen of the defendants named in the indictment have been directly charged with taking part in those murders, officials said.
The indictment included allegations that the killings were committed “in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner that involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.”
That makes the defendants eligible for the death penalty, which prosecutors have not said yet whether they will pursue.
In a March 6, 2017 killing, five members of the Fulton clique choked a rival gang member in the river wash at Fulton Avenue and Vanowen Street, then kidnapped him and threw him into their car, prosecutors say in the indictment.
They drove him to the forest, where gang members killed him with a machete, prosecutors said. After a suspect cut out the man’s heart, they dismembered the victim then threw body parts into a canyon, authorities said.
The reason for the victim’s punishment, according to authorities: He crossed out MS-13 graffiti.
The Fulton clique is accused of primarily operating from Whitsett Sports Park in Valley Glen, the location of one of the other murders outlined in the indictment, the Jan. 14 killing of a homeless man.
That killing, along with several assaults reported at the park, were part of the Fulton clique’s plan to establish control of the park as its territory. Prosecutors said the clique’s members tagged every surface they could with their graffiti.
On the day of the murder, one of the suspects, Walter Chavez Larin, sent a message to another gang member over Facebook Messenger, authorities said.
“Let’s go take out the trash,” he said.
Later that night, three Fulton clique members arrived at the sports park with a gun. They found 34-year-old Bradley Hanaway sleeping on the ground.
According to Los Angeles police, the three men accosted Hanaway, then shot him to death. An L.A. city parks employee found him dead the next morning.
Most of the defendants are young, officials said, with many about 20 years old.
Of the 22 defendants, 19 are undocumented immigrants, having arrived in the U.S. within the past three or four years. The targets of their violence were also young newcomers to the U.S., authorities said.
In October 2017, two MS-13 members lured a 16-year-old boy to Lake Balboa Park, where other members took him to a part of the Angeles National Forest just north of San Fernando. While there, the gang members beat the boy to death, according to prosecutors.
Months later, LAPD detectives found the boy’s body in Lopez Canyon.
The killing of the boy prompted investigators to focus more heavily on MS-13’s dealings in the region. The federal investigation followed, eventually leading to Tuesday’s indictment.
“We want to send a message loud and clear to the youth that are coming from these countries – El Salvador and Honuras – who happen to be residents of our county,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueava. “MS-13 is a dead end, and it shouldn’t be a part of your decision-making process.”
The defendants’ allegiance to the gang was secured long before crossing into the U.S.
MS-13 traces its roots to Los Angeles, where the group was formed to protect El Salvadorean immigrants in the 1960s. When many of those original members were deported back to El Salvador, the gang proliferated in Central America, prosecutors say.
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