A brazen daytime murder on a populated subway platform, ominous graffiti scrawled on a politician’s office building and the appearance of warring factions meting out their brand of brutal street justice show the infamous MS-13 gang is growing its presence in another heavily-populated area of New York.
The notoriously violent gang is once again in the headlines this week after the arrest of suspected member Ramiro “Caramalo” Gutierrez, who's been charged with killing 20-year-old Abel Mosso, whom authorities say belonged to the rival 18th Street Gang. Gutierrez, a 26-year-old Salvadoran national, is in the U.S. illegally, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official told Fox News, and graphic video of Sunday's subway platform shooting in Queens has since gone viral.
“One incident is a problem. We have had a number of incidents involving MS-13 in recent months,” New York City Police Department Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea told the Daily News in the aftermath of the shooting, which sent terrified commuters running for their lives. “When we have violent incidents, or certainly an incident as horrific [as] this, on a crowded train, in the middle of the day, with hard-working people trying to go about their lives, we will bring the full brunt...The fast way to get the NYPD's attention is an incident like this."
And if a high-profile weekend murder wasn't enough to announce MS-13's presence in the area, members of the gang apparently also decided to spell it out. Francisco Moya, the Democrat city council member who represents the district where the subway shooting occurred, took to Facebook to accuse the gang of spray-painting “MS-13” on the side of his office building during the weekend.
“If intimidation is MS-13’s goal when its members resort to gun violence — as is reportedly the case in Sunday’s fatal shooting of a man on the 90th Street stop on the 7 train — or when they spray paint gang graffiti in our neighborhoods — as they did on my district office this weekend — they will fail in those endeavors,” he wrote. “We are stronger than any senseless display of force.”
Gutierrez and the man he is accused of killing are no strangers to police. At the time of the shooting Sunday, Gutierrez was already awaiting trial on a slew of charges after being nabbed in an ICE-involved MS-13 sweep in December – one of a staggering dozen times he's been arrested, according to the Daily News.
Mosso, the newspaper added, had been arrested seven times, and police on Wednesday were still not sure why the two alleged rivals came into contact Sunday. The pair is seen on video wrestling on the subway platform in the moments leading up to the shooting, officials said.
"We do have comments from witnesses that MS-13 was mentioned,” Shea told the Daily News. “Somebody was yelling something about MS-13. That'll have to be vetted out."
The December sweep, which ICE says was part of a joint effort with the NYPD and the Queens District Attorney’s Office, netted the arrests of Gutierrez and 11 other suspected MS-13 members “on various charges including attempted murder and conspiracy, in addition to drug and weapons charges.”
The federal agency accused the top leaders it detained of “plotting to kill a rival gang member and planning the execution of a man who left the MS-13 gang,” while also noting investigators recovered stashes of guns and drugs during the crackdown.
One of the indictments related to that raid revealed Gutierrez and two of his associates allegedly conspired to rob a home in Queens where they believed $80,000 had been hidden.
Another indictment said investigators, through wiretaps, learned alleged MS-13 member Jorge “Terrible” Andrade and six others were plotting to use a baseball bat to kill someone from the Latin Kings gang. The hit was reportedly meant to be retribution for a June 2018 shooting outside a bar in Queens that left two MS-13 members wounded.
A third indictment, ICE says, explained how “when Andrade and other members of the MS-13 gang learned that one of their own had blacked out his distinctive MS-13 tattoo and had disassociated himself with the gang, they plotted to kill him.”
Other arrests in the sweep included a pair of alleged MS-13 members accused of bludgeoning two individuals with a metal pipe in September 2018.
But the December log of MS-13-related police actions in Queens didn't end there.
Police detained five people, including a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy, after Ian Cruz, 23, was found dead in Bayswater Point State Park in the Far Rockaway neighborhood.
Court documents referenced in media reports at the time said Cruz was shot multiple times in the head, and he was found only wearing socks and underwear. Police said the murder might be connected to MS-13, and one report said investigators believed Cruz was lured to the park with the promise of sex.
The Far Rockaway neighborhood is one of the easternmost points of Queens and borders Long Island, a part of southeast New York long believed to be MS-13’s stronghold in the state.
But the ongoing New York and Trump administration crackdown against MS-13 has taken such a toll on the gang that they were only linked to a single murder in the area during 2018.
ICE also says the U.S. deported 1,332 members of MS-13 during fiscal year 2018 -- a 24-percent jump from the year before.
Yet the fight against the gang doesn’t appear close to being concluded, and Trump, who spent his formative years in Queens before entering the world of Manhattan real estate, even referenced this week’s subway platform shooting in his Tuesday night State of the Union speech in a bid to drum up support for a southern border wall.
“The savage gang MS-13 now operates in at least 20 different American states and they almost all come through our southern border,” the president said. “Just yesterday, an MS-13 gang member was taken into custody for a fatal shooting on a subway platform in New York City. We are removing these gang members by the thousands, but until we secure our border, they are going to keep streaming right back in.”