Liz Robbins and Alan Feuer’s New York Times article “’They Keep Finding Bodies’: Gang Violence in Long Island Town Fuels Immigration Debate” leads in with a daunting portrayal of gang violence: “Four dead teenagers. Two weeks. One town. And a ruthless gang, the authorities say, was most likely responsible for the toll. Again” (Robbins). The gang that is being referred to is the MS-13 gang, which is short for Mara Salvatrucha. Recently, there has been a flurry of gang-related murders in the Long Island area at the hand of the MS-13 gang. The recent activity has been so bad that it has even drawn the attention of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, and the newly appointed Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Attorney General Sessions aptly referred to the MS-13 gang as a “plague that is spreading across the U.S.” while President Trump kindly attributed the violence to former President Barack Obama’s immigration policies (Avalos). The MS-13 gang has recently been extremely active, or at least their activities have recently been extremely well documented, in the Long Island area. Last year, on September 13th, two teenage girls, ages 15 and 16, were found brutally murdered near an elementary school and only a week later, two miles away, “the skeletal remains of two teenage boys were found in the woods (Robbins). This April, four teenage boys were found in the Long Island area. All of these murders have been attributed to the MS-13 gang. All of these murders fit the same modus operandi and all of these murders displayed the same similarity in gruesome, heartless violence. The MS-13 gang appears to be growing, but they question remains: how did the MS-13 gang come into this position? This paper will explore the history of the MS-13 gang as well as its part in the recent Long Island murders.
Hector Silva Avalos calls El Salvador his home country and is currently a research fellow at American University. Avalos also spent 15 years as an investigative reporter in El Salvador, where he took a special interest in the MS-13 gang. Avalos attests that the MS-13 gang formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s after numerous Salvadorans emigrated and fled the country during El Salvador’s civil war (Avalos). Originally, it is believed that the gangs formed as a way for the new immigrants to establish a presence in the gang-riddled Los Angeles community. Further, as newcomers to the United States, Salvadorans needed to protect themselves and their families. However, the MS-13 gang engaged in the same sorts of criminal activities as its rivals, which included: drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trafficking, murder, or basically any crime a person can think of. Avalos attributes the Salvadoran civil war as the first major moment in the formation and evolution of the MS-13 gang (Avalos). This is to say that Salvadorans escaped a violent country in El Salvador, a place where the use of violence at the time often meant self-protection and safety (violence was also being used in a more aggressive nature, of course), and was put into a somewhat, perhaps less chaotic situation in the United States. In Los Angeles, Salvadorans were only able to find affordable housing, as much of their money had been used in the immigration process and America is a wealthier country than El Salvador, in poorer neighborhoods. These neighborhoods were infested with already existing gangs. Therefore, in order to not get taken advantage of, Salvadorans organized their own protective gang.
Today, the MS-13 gang has significantly expanded from Los Angeles. The gang has a strong presence in many metropolitan areas in the United States including: San Francisco, Boston, Houston, Charlotte, Washington D.C., and Long Island. Avalos refers to this cross-country expansion as the gang’s second major moment of growth (Avalos). It is because of this expansion that the numerous recent murders in New York have occurred. In the autumn of 2016, 15-year old Nisa Mickens and 16-year old Kayla Cuevas were found butchered in Long Island, New York. The murders were gang-related, and started the current culmination of MS-13 presence in the area. Gang violence caused panic and anguish. Kayla Cuevas’ mother, Evelyn Rodriguez was quoted saying, “It’s so hard. I’m hurting. I wish I could hold my daughter again,” and continued on to address the rapid rise of gang violence in the area, “To me, it’s worse than it was before; it’s everywhere” (Robbins). Indeed, Ms. Rodriguez is correct. Although the MS-13 gang began in the 1980s, it has only been present in Suffolk County, where the murders occurred, since 1998 (Robbins). There have been numerous accounts of gang related activity, including the crimes mentioned above, but this is one of the first times the MS-13 crimes have been so public. Events in Long Island turned for the worst when in April of this year four teenage boys were found brutally murdered in the area similar to the murders of the teenage girls. The victims, in fact, were so mutilated that the families of the deceased were not allowed to see the bodies in person. Instead, relatives were shown the corpses via police video for identification purposes (Benavides).
The MS-13 gang has grown from a small group of Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles to become a major player on the global gang scene. The MS-13 gang has committed serious crimes in the United States, Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, and even Spain. Currently, especially with the closeness of the recent Long Island attacks, it appears that the MS-13 gang is growing strong in number and more willing to publicize its presence. For law-abiding citizens in communities run by MS-13 gang members, this sudden growth and exertion of power only means that more panic and anguish is on its way.
- Avalos, Hector. “Jeff Sessions Issues Warning After Brutal Long Island Killing By MS-13”. NPR.org. N.p., 2017. Web.
- Robbins, Liz. “‘They Keep Finding Bodies’: Gang Violence In Long Island Town Fuels Immigration Debate”. Nytimes.com. N.p., 2017. Web.
- Benavides, Cristian. “In New York, Latino Families Are Devastated By MS-13 Linked Deaths”. NBC News. N.p., 2017. Web.