Tara Slate Donaldson, Gainesville Times, Jan. 23
While Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies must contend with a variety of gangs, the most well-known group is Mara Salvatrucha 13, or MS-13.
According to Prince William Police, most of the county’s criminal gangs are part of larger Northern Virginia groups and even those that operate on the West Coast or in other countries.
MS-13 originated in El Salvador and spread to the West Coast.
Although it is a largely Salvadoran gang, members of other ethnicities can join by being “beaten in” or, in the case of females, “sexed in,” police said.
A member is beaten in by being beaten up by the members of the gang. Female initiates are sometimes given the choice of being beaten in, or sexed in — having sex with the other members.
In Prince William, many of the gang members, who range in age from teenagers to adults in their 30s, are “transient” or are not county natives.
The MS-13 gang is known for and brags about its violence, such as shootings and robberies, and the county police department has been arresting members for illegal activities for about three years.
A report issued three years ago by Al Valdez, a district attorney investigator in Orange County, Calif., explains that Mara Salvatrucha is a result of El Salvador’s civil war, which began in the 1980s and lasted for more than 12 years.
More than a million refugees fled the country, settling primarily in southern California and the Washington, D.C., area. Some had ties to the Salvadoran street gang La Mara, while others had been members of paramilitary groups.
Most of the refugees settled in established Hispanic neighborhoods of Los Angeles’ “Rampart” area, but they were not readily accepted by the Hispanic community and were often targeted by local Hispanic gangs.
As a result, some refugees and members of La Mara and a paramilitary group formed what is now known as the Mara Salvatrucha street gang.
“Like many other street gangs, MS initially formed for protection, but quickly developed a reputation for being organized and extremely violent,” that report states.