Jon Ward, Washington Times, May 18
Gangs in Northern Virginia are a growing threat to residents’ safety and are recruiting children as young as 7 years old, law enforcement officials said yesterday, a day after what police sources say was the second gang-related attack in a week.
Gangs, which police say are growing in size and boldness, usually commit violent crimes against other gangs, but bystanders are at risk.
“When these people are shooting, they don’t care about who’s behind it and who they miss,” said Sgt. Jerry Keys, a spokesman for the Herndon police. “The general public is at risk, because you might be behind that person.”
Sgt. Keys’ comments came yesterday as police were investigating what sources said was a gang-related shooting that left a 17-year-old boy dead and a 16-year-old girl injured Sunday night in Herndon. As of last night, Herndon police had not conclusively linked Sunday’s shooting to a gang.
Police said Jose Sandoval was fatally shot at 9:41 p.m. in the 1000 block of Park Avenue. A 16-year old girl was also injured in the shooting. She was in stable condition at Reston Hospital Center yesterday.
Police sources said Sunday’s shooting was not likely in retaliation for the gruesome May 10 machete attack in Alexandria. Police have arrested an 18-year-old Annandale man in connection with that attack.
The suspect in that attack is thought to belong to the street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, which accounts for 95 percent of gang-related crimes in Fairfax County, according to law-enforcement documents. The machete attack was on a member of a rival gang, South Side Locos.
However, a police source said Sunday’s shooting was committed by a MS-13 member, so it could not have been a revenge killing by the South Side Locos.
Even though most gang violence is “gang on gang,” as they “get more brazen out on our streets, then the threat of violence affecting an innocent is increased,” said Mary Ann Jennings, a spokeswoman for Fairfax County police.
And gangs thrive on recruitment that reaches out to children as young as elementary-school age. Such children are often targeted because an older sibling, possibly in middle or high school, is already being recruited, Ms. Jennings said.
Gang members in Fairfax are “known to recruit children as young as seven years old in public schools,” according to a memo recently obtained by The Washington Times. The memo was sent to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in February by Paul J. McNulty, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Estimates on the number of gang members in Northern Virginia vary. Mr. McNulty believes there are 2,720 gang members in 80 gangs, but Fairfax County police have said there are 4,300 gang members in 53 gangs and that 1,131 of those members have known addresses in the county.
The FBI estimates that MS-13 alone has about 3,000 members in 30 cliques in the Washington area. It also estimates that in El Salvador and Honduras, there are 50,000 to 70,000 members of MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang.
MS-13 has its roots in the 12-year civil war that began in 1980 in El Salvador. More than a million refugees fled to the United States, and MS-13 began in Los Angeles. It has since established Northern Virginia as one of its major hubs, according to FBI documents.
Local government officials are still deciding how to deal with gangs. “That’s the problem — no one’s talking about it. They don’t want to acknowledge they’re here,” a congressional source said.
Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore will meet today with the Fairfax County Police gang unit, which will brief him on the issue and discuss some of the antigang laws he introduced this year that will take effect in July.
“Any time you’ve got gang activity in a community, it affects everyone’s quality of life. You’re going to have violence, you’re going to have drug activity. The gangs will recruit in schools, the schools will deteriorate, the families will deteriorate and economic conditions will deteriorate,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Mr. Kilgore. “It’s just terrible all around.”