Los Angeles-based MS-13 gang members carried out seven grisly killings over the past two years, including hacking a victim to death with a machete in the Angeles National Forest and carving out his heart, according to a newly unsealed federal indictment officials presented at a news conference on Tuesday.
That incident happened on March 6, 2017, authorities said. Suspecting that the victim, a member of a rival gang, had defaced an MS-13 graffiti, they allegedly abducted him, choked him and drove to a remote location in the Angeles National Forest where six MS-13 associates killed him with a machete.
They dismembered him, cut out his heart and threw his body parts into a canyon, federal officials said.
The next month, two of the defendants allegedly drove a person they suspected of being an informant to the Angeles National Forest, where they killed him with a machete.
In January 2018, gang members stabbed a 26-year-old man in an abandoned property near downtown L.A., stuffed his body in a suitcase and dumped it off the 14 Freeway in Agua Dulce, said L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, whose office has also filed charges against suspected MS-13 members over the past year.
According to Lacey and the 78-page indictment from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, MS-13 members also beat an 18-year-old man to death with a baseball bat on the rooftop of a Hollywood building in November 2018, battered a 17-year-old girl with a rock later that month and left her remains at the San Gabriel Mountains and shot a 34-year-old homeless man in January 2019 in a Valley Glen park because they “wanted to see the victim’s tattoos to determine if he was from a rival gang.”
That location, Whitsett Park, had been nearly entirely covered in MS-13 and Fulton clique graffiti, prosecutors allege.
“Fulton clique members routinely gathered and met at Whitsett Park to sell drugs, ingest drugs, extort park vendors, discuss gang business, and commit acts of violence, including shootings and robberies,” the indictment said.
One of the defendants shared an image on Facebook of an LAPD Crime Alert for the 2019 killing, court documents said.
Another victim, 16-year-old Brayan Andino, was lured by two female gang associates to Lake Balboa in October 2017, where he was then abducted by other gang members, officials said.
Andino’s body was later found at the bottom of Lopez Canyon, triggering the investigation that eventually led to the indictment, Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Horace Frank said.
With help from local officials, federal authorities have charged 22 MS-13 members linked to this recent spate of violence they believe to have resulted from certain factions of the transnational gang attempting to exert dominance in Los Angeles.
The particular case presented by authorities on Tuesday focuses on the Fulton clique, which operates in the San Fernando Valley and requires potential recruits to kill someone before they could officially join the group, officials said.
“We haven’t seen this level of violence associated with MS-13 in Southern California,” said Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s L.A. field office.
Many of those accused are young individuals who came to the country within the last four years, Delacourt said. Only three of them are over 24 years old.
They communicated about their crimes through social media, posted photos of themselves online throwing MS-13 hand signs and dealt in narcotics to fund their activities, according to authorities.
Several of the victims are also recent immigrants, some of them suspected of belonging to rival gangs who had cooperated with authorities in their home countries, Delacourt said.
“They are preying on their own community and that is what we are here to stop,” Delacourt said.
Most of the defendants had already been in state or federal custody. Officials said the indictment was unsealed after the final four defendants were arrested in the past three days.
Lacey said her office charged seven adults and 10 minors in connection with six murders in the county between 2017 and 2019.
“These gang members sought out young victims in their teens and in their early 20s who were new to this country,” Lacey said. “Many had recently immigrated from El Salvador and Honduras. They were alone, looking to fit in with others from their native countries but instead they met their demise quickly at the hands of gang members who preyed upon them.”
MS-13 was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s and has since grown into a transnational gang that counts tens of thousands of members in the U.S. and other countries, officials said.
Although officials continue to investigate gang activities in Southern California, Delacourt said the recent indictment “is a major step taking out some of the most violent members of MS-13.”