A new tip line unveiled Tuesday is the latest weapon against the notorious MS-13 gang, as federal officials hope to gather as much information as they can to use against the street gang violence battering both coasts.
The new tip line, along with a public service announcement in Spanish, encourages people who may have information about the gang to come forward. Both were unveiled in Greenbelt, Maryland, a state with an alarming presence of MS-13 and MS-13-related murders.
U.S. Attorney for Maryland Robert K. Hur said that MS-13 is "terrorizing and preying upon entire communities" and that the community's help is needed to bring justice to gang members who commit "heinous crimes."
“I understand that some victims and witnesses do not call law enforcement,” Hur said. “We want all Marylanders to know that we are working hard to defeat the gang, and we are succeeding.”
MS-13 is active in Maryland but is usually focused in the suburbs around Washington, D.C. Earlier this year, a 14-year-old girl was killed with a machete and a baseball bat when MS-13 gang members turned on an associate "in extremely violent behavior."
That slaying came only months after authorities arrested five MS-13 gang members for the murder of a fellow member, 16-year-old Jacson Chicas. He was stabbed more than 100 times and then dumped on the side of a Virginia road and set on fire.
Officials said that MS-13 has ramped up recruitment in the D.C. area in 2019, after taking a break in 2018.
Officials said the newly established tip line allows people to provide information about MS-13 activities to a central location, from where the FBI will then disseminate it to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.
The public service announcement features a woman who said she was a victim of MS-13 and was extorted for almost four years. She can be heard explaining that if she didn't pay every eight days, "they were going to threaten and hurt my family."
MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, recruits young teenagers from El Salvador and Honduras, though many gang members were born in the U.S. The gang has been blamed for dozens of killings since January 2016 across a wide swath of New York's Long Island, the Los Angeles area, and the D.C suburbs.
MS-13 also has been singled out by President Trump for its brutality, which has led to a series of crackdowns by law enforcement on the federal and local levels.
Officials said Tuesday they hope that the video will encourage others to come forward and contact the FBI so that they can be helped by federal officials. Callers who use the tip line will have their identities protected.
Jennifer Boone, FBI special agent in charge in Baltimore, said that MS-13 counts on using fear in communities to silence them.
“We must not allow fear and silence to be weapons MS-13 is allowed to use," she said, adding, "Use your voice to tell them, no more.”
The national tip line 1-866-STP-MS13 or 1-866-787-6713.