MS-13 linked to bodies in Virginia park

Police officials said Friday that gang activity in Northern Virginia is “getting out of control,” as they announced the deaths of two people whose remains were found in a public park in Fairfax County.

The remains were found Thursday night in Holmes Run Park in Lincolnia.

Police had yet to identify the victims or say how they were killed — but this isn’t the first time authorities have recovered human remains in the park. Two former MS-13 gang members were killed, dismembered and buried in Holmes Run Park in 2013 and 2014 after they angered other members of the gang. Thirteen MS-13 gang members were convicted last year of those killings and a fatal shooting in Northern Virginia.

“This problem is horrible,” Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler said. “This is four murders in this park. Obviously, we’ve had other murders in the region in the past few weeks. This is getting out of control, and we need to stop it.”

The chief declined to say whether MS-13 or another gang was responsible for the slayings. As the medical examiner works to identify the bodies, Chief Roessler was unable to say if the killings are related to other recent Northern Virginia homicides or the gang-related disappearances of two teenage girls who later returned home.

“It’s more than likely that the recovery of the remains that we have to date in this active crime scene will be linked to another set of gang murders,” Chief Roessler said.

MS-13 is an American-born street gang with roots in El Salvador whose members are known for brutal violence, including slashing victims to death with knives and machetes.

Police have arrested 16 people in connection with recent gang-related homicides in Virginia that reportedly involved MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha.

Ten people, including six teenagers, were arrested and charged in the disappearance and death of Damaris Alexandra Reyes Rivas, 15. She went missing in December and at some point was taken against her will to Lake Accotink Park, where she was assaulted before she was killed and her body left at a nearby industrial park. Authorities found her body in February after investigating the killing of a 21-year-old man in Prince William County.

Christian Alexander Sosa Rivas was killed in Prince William County in January; his body was found along the Potomac River in Dumfries.

Six people have been arrested and charged in connection with his killing, which was carried by MS-13 leaders who didn’t like the fact that Sosa Rivas had been representing himself as the leader of a local sect of the gang, according to court documents obtained by WRC-TV.

Despite the numerous gang-related disappearances and homicides, Timothy Slater — the FBI special agent in charge of the Washington field office — said he doesn’t think the heightened activity is illustrative of a shift of more gangs into Northern Virginia from the surrounding region.

“I don’t know why the heightened activity now,” said Mr. Slater. “I think it’s always been there. I think you see nationwide hot spots across the nation. This happens to be a current hot spot.”

Despite the recent arrests, authorities are still worried about additional gang activity in the region, particularly recruitment of teenagers. Young Central American immigrants who have arrived recently to the area are known to be prime targets for gang recruitment, according to gang intervention specialists.

Chief Roessler warned parents to be on the lookout for signs that their children might be associating with gang members.

Through investigation of the bodies found in the park this week, authorities are hoping they are able to tamp down the gang resurgence.

“I think there is a great amount of activity that we are worried about,” Mr. Slater said. “We are looking at avenues and ways, especially with this investigation, to have a larger impact on that.”

 

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