Three MS-13 affiliates pleaded guilty Tuesday to their roles in the savage death of a teenage Virginia girl in what prosecutors say was a gangland-style revenge killing.
As part of a deal with prosecutors, Cindy Blanco Hernandez, 19, Aldair J. Miranda Carcamo, 18, and Emerson Fugon Lopez, 17, pleaded guilty to a host of charges that included abduction and in two instances, gang participation. The three will be key witnesses in the trials of three other gang members charged with directly killing 15-year-old Damaris A. Reyes Rivas.
The January killing of Reyes Rivas, which ultimately resulted in the arrest of 18 young people, galvanized the country and highlighted the brutal nature of one of the nation’s most violent and powerful street gangs.
According to the prosecution, Reyes Rivas was taken to a Virginia park where she was stabbed with a knife and jabbed with a stick by a large group of MS-13 members. Her body was eventually discovered after it was dumped under a highway overpass on the outskirts of Washington D.C.
FBI agent Fernando Uribe testified in July that Jose Cerrato, a 17-year-old alleged gang member, filmed and narrated the killing on a cellphone with the intention of sending the footage to MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.
It’s unclear if the video was ever sent to El Salvador, but Uribe testified that Cerrato was promoted in the gang for his role in the murder, the Washington Post reported.
Reyes Rivas was allegedly killed as revenge for the death of 21-year-old Christian Sosa Rivas.
Sosa Rivas was killed around New Year’s Eve after he was purportedly lured to a local park by Reyes Rivas. Some of the eight people charged in connection with his death are believed to have thought Sosa Rivas was a member of a rival gang who was claiming to be an MS-13 member, and the defendants’ purpose was “gaining entrance to and maintaining and increasing position in MS-13 according to the Justice Department."
Reyes Rivas’ killing was uncovered when investigators found the videos of her killing while looking into Sosa Rivas’ death.
According to testimony by Uribe, 17-year-old Venus Romero Iraheta, an alleged MS-13 cohort and girlfriend of Sosa Rivas, blamed Reyes Rivas for luring Sosa Rivas to his death before stabbing her in the neck with a knife 13 times.
Wilmer A. Sanchez Serrano, 21, another MS-13 affiliate, is accused of stabbing Reyes Rivas in the neck with a sharpened stick.
MS-13, which has become a major focus of President Trump’s Justice Department, was founded more than two decades ago in southern California by immigrants fleeing El Salvador's civil war. Its founders took lessons learned from the brutal conflict to the streets of Los Angeles, as they built a reputation as one of the most ruthless and sophisticated street gangs in the country.
With as many as 10,000 members in 46 states, the gang has expanded beyond its initial and local roots and members have been convicted of crimes ranging from kidnapping and murder to drug smuggling and human trafficking, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jason Shatarsky told the Associated Press.
The gang now has a large presence in southern California, Washington D.C. and many rural areas on the East Coast with substantial Salvadoran populations like the Carolinas. And in any community where the gang operates, its members often prey on their own people, targeting residents and business owners for extortion, among other crimes.