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City police keep eye out for MS-13 gang

March 07, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - As the brutal MS-13 street gang continues to spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and into Maryland, Hagerstown Police Department officials said officers are keeping a mindful eye on any local presence related to the group.

Police also said some current or former members of the group reside in the city.

The FBI estimated late last year there are as many as 2,000 members of MS-13, a gang also known as Mara Salvatrucha that consists primarily of natives of El Salvador, who have strong ties to Virginia municipalities, including Leesburg, Alexandria and Fairfax.

City police Chief Arthur Smith, who is on leave from the department due to a temporary State Department assignment overseas, and Capt. Charles Summers, the acting chief, have said the group has had emerging, documented activity during the last year in Frederick, Md., and Winchester, Va.

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"We routinely exchange information on gang activity," Summers said. "MS-13 is a major topic (of those discussions)."

Prior to his departure, Smith identified addressing MS-13 as one of the city department's top priorities in 2005. He said if the gang is allowed to set up operations in Hagerstown, fighting it would be difficult.

"We want to discourage them from settling here before they get here," Smith said late last year.

Smith and Summers said members of the department began to have concerns about their presence when some seemingly nonactive members, who had the trademark tattoos most members have, and graffiti hailing the group began appearing in Hagerstown.

Summers said much of the concern stems from MS-13 being "one of the most violent gangs, and it appears to be just for the sake of being violent."

Suspected MS-13 gang members have been identified in several violent incidents in the northern Virginia area in recent years, including the rape and murder of a mother of two, the stabbing death of a former member-turned witness while she was pregnant and multiple assaults that include the amputation of several of the victims' fingers with machetes.

Oscar Omar Ramos Hernandez, the man convicted in the rape and murder of the Falls Church, Va., woman, received three consecutive life sentences earlier this month and is the third believed MS-13 member to have received at least one life sentence on a murder conviction in the Northern Virginia area.

Summers said none of those suspected of having recent activity with MS-13 has been charged or investigated in any high-profile crimes of violence in Hagerstown.

"We've been fortunate in Hagerstown, but to say they're active in Northern Virginia is an understatement," Summers said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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