As Chief Brian Kyes stood at the podium in Boston’s Federal Court last Friday after an historic roundup, four years in the making, of key MS-13 gang members in Chelsea, Eastie, Everett and Somerville, he thought of one innocent single mother who had simply looked out the window of a battered women’s shelter when she heard fighting.
For that short peak, she got a bullet in the head – premeditated and, as charges suggest, with extreme violence carried out by two MS-13 members from a clique in Somerville.
“My thoughts after this operation are with a young mother of three – Katerin Gomez – who was murdered on Oct. 18, 2014 by what we believe to be members of this gang,” he said. “This is someone that has nothing to do with gangs. Nothing at all. She heard noise outside, went to look out the window and that’s when she was hit in the head with a stray bullet…The greatest point today is this is not where it ends.”
In an unexpected and shocking roundup of El Salvadoran MS-13 gang members in Everett, Chelsea, East Boston, Somerville, Revere, and elsewhere, federal, state and local officials announced Friday morning that they believed they had put a significant dent in the alleged murderous and criminal gang known in Spanish as ‘La Mara Salvatrucha.’
Around 5 a.m. on Friday, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials, Homeland Security, State Police and local police began arresting targeted members of the gang – that following an investigation that has been underway since 2012 and the recent indictment of 56 local members on RICO charges ranging from murder to drug trafficking.
More than 400 law enforcement officials made some 37 arrests on Friday, 14 of those listed as being from Chelsea. Some 15 of those indicted were already in custody on federal, state or immigration charges, including one man from Chelsea. Authorities also announced the arrest of the gang’s East Coast leader, Jose Martinez-Castro, of Richmond, VA.
Perhaps most important in Chelsea was an accountability for a rampage of violence that the gang has inflicted mostly on Chelsea soil, though many times the players and conflicts come from cliques in Everett, Somerville and Eastie.
Five murders were charged, including two in Chelsea and three in Eastie. Of those in Eastie, two of the victims were young teens from Chelsea – one a 15-year-old from Chelsea High School, Irvin De Paz. There were also 14 charges of attempted murder leveled against gang members, and a shocking 10 of those attempted murders occurred in Chelsea in 2014 and 2015. Drug Trafficking charges of five kilograms of cocaine were also leveled against the gang in Chelsea.
“Our goal is to stop the violence and the danger and fear they enact upon these communities,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz at a press conference on Friday.
“Violence and its impact is real and seen in East Boston, Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Somerville,” said Hank Shaw, FBI special agent in charge. “Today’s operation made the kind of impact where approximately one-third of the MS-13 membership in Massachusetts has been or will be taken off the streets.”
Officials who investigated the murders, particularly that of De Paz and Eastie’s Wilson Martinez, said they were some of the most grisley scenes they had ever witness – noting that charges included murder with “extreme atrocity.”
“In my 30 years of law enforcement, a majority of which has been on the gang unit, I’ve never seen a more violent gang than this,” said State Police Lt. Frank Hughes. “The violence is unimaginable and the brutality they inflict on each other is unspeakable. Anyone who feels they will fill the void left by today’s operation – we’re on you.”
Shaw said the murders were often “machete attacks involving slow, painful deaths.”
VIOLENCE NOTED IN CHELSEA
As a result of the investigation, five very troubling murders were tied back to MS-13.
In Chelsea, the murder of Katerin Gomez in Oct. 2014 was tied to Somerville clique members Hector ‘Cuervo’ Ramires and Bryan ‘Chucky’ Galicia-Barillas. The indictment charges that the two men with extreme atrocity and cruelty murdered her as she looked out the window.
Javier Ortiz was murdered on Dec. 14, 2014 by Chelsea clique members Hector ‘Vida Loca’ Enamorado, Luis ‘Brujo’ Solis-Vasquez of the Everett clique, Noe Salvador ‘Crazy’ Perez-Vasquez of the second Everett clique and Jose ‘Smiley’ Miguel Hernandez, also of the second Everett clique in Chelsea. The murder came as a result of an altercation with Ortiz the night before. Following the murder, the indictment indicates, Enamorado and Solis-Vasquez were congratulated for the murder at a meeting of the East Side Locos Salvatrucha (ESLS) in Everett. Two ESLS leading members, allegedly, were beaten by the gang members as discipline for not helping the two killers the night before.
In Eastie, on Constitution Beach, Wilson Martinez was killed in Sept. 2015 with extreme atrocity by one member from the Everett clique and two members from another clique, as well as a juvenile. The indictment alleges they were encouraged beforehand by Perez-Vasquez to murder more rival gang members in order to get promoted. All of those that participated in the murder were promoted within their cliques – one getting a 13-second “beat in” by numerous clique leaders on Deer Island Dec. 6, 2015.
In particular, the murder of De Paz, who was only 15, of Chelsea, was tied to the two violent strains of Everett MS-13 cliques.
The Everett-based ESLS and the Everett-based ‘Everett Locos Salvatrucha (ELS) had encouraged Everett’s Joel ‘Animal’ Martinez to murder De Paz in order to be admitted to the gang. The leader of ELS, Noe Salvador Perez-Vasquez, gave the initial encouragement, it was alleged.
The murder took place on Sept. 20, 2015 in Eastie. After the murder, the ELS clique disciplined Martinez by beating him at a meeting and refusing him entrance.
However, after that, on January 8 of this year, the ESLS clique allegedly initiated Martinez in a meeting at an Everett auto body shop. After he was beaten for 13 seconds, he was welcomed into the group – according to the indictment, which was established using wiretaps.
Finally, just a month ago, on Jan. 10, in Eastie, Christopher Perez-De La Cruz was allegedly murdered by members of two Somerville cliques. That murder, it was alleged, came due to a call from the East Coast leader in a December 2015 meeting in Richmond, VA for cliques in Massachusetts to be more active in killing rival gang members.
The attempted murders in Chelsea were as follows:
- March 28, 2014, Hector ‘Cuervo’ Martinez attempted to murder one victim with a knife.
- April 6, 2014, Rafael ’Tremendo’ Leoner-Aguirre attempted to murder two victims by attacking them with a machete.
- April 16, 2014, Aguirre, Josue ‘Gallito’ Morales, and Kevin ‘Blancito’ Ayala attempted to murder two men with a gun, hitting one of the victims.
- May 29, 2014, Daniel ‘Roca’ Menjivar and David ‘Cilindro’ Lopez attempted to murder one victim by stabbing him with a knife and shooting him with a gun.
- Sept. 8, 2014, Angel ‘Bravo’ Pineda and Jose ‘Little Crazy’ Vasquez and Bryan ‘Chucky’ Galicia-Barillas attempted to murder on victim by stabbing him with a knife.
- Around April 2015, Menjivar, Lopez, Galicia-Barillas and Aguirre and a man only known as ‘Violento’ attempted to murder one victim with a machete. That victim had been an MS-13 member, and a green light was given to kill him by a leader of the gang in Arizona – as he was suspected of working with law enforcement.
- May 12, 2015, Jose ‘Muerto’ Hernandez-Miguel and Luis ‘Brujo’ Solis Vasquez attempted to murder a man with a knife.
- May 26, 2015, Galicia-Barillas and Domingo ‘Chapin’ Tirol attempted to murder two men by stabbing them with a knife.
- Aug. 23, 2015, Edwin ‘Sangriento’ Gonzalez attempted to murder two men by attacking and striking them with a machete.
- Dec. 27, 2015, Joel ‘Animal’ Martinez and Mauricio ‘Tigre’ Sanchez attempted to murder one victim by stabbing him with a knife.
“There was a time when rival gang members stay out of each other’s way – one went one way and the other went the other way,” said Kyes. “It’s getting to the point now that if there are two rival gang members and I see you walking down the street with the wrong hat or shoes, I might kill you by stabbing you or with a gun. This is the way these kids operate. That’s the message they get from the hierarchy.”
RECRUITING IN THE SCHOOLS
Most shockingly, federal officials detailed the fact that the gang was allegedly recruiting members from inside local high schools and middle schools – including Everett High School, Chelsea High School and East Boston High School.
“During the course of this investigation, it is alleged that MS-13 actively recruited prospective members, known as ‘paros,’ inside local high schools from communities with significant immigrant populations from Central America, including Chelsea High School, East Boston High School and Everett High School,” said Ortiz. “Prospective members were typically 14 or 15 years old. Under the strict rules of MS-13, as communicated to the local ‘cliques’ by the leaders of MS-13 in El Salvador, these prospective members must engage in significant violent criminal activity on behalf of the criminal organization, usually the killing of a rival gang member, in order to become a full-fledged member of MS-13, known as a ‘homeboy.’”
In order to recruit, the gang was involved in the three local high schools – both during school and after school – to get students to join the gang. Younger prospective gang members were often encouraged to commit more violent crimes to move up in rank.
Supt. Mary Bourque sent a letter home to parents and students following the raids on Monday.
“I want to reassure you that our schools are a safe place for students to learn and thrive,” she wrote. “We acknowledge that gang activity has taken place outside our schools and in our community. So that you are aware of our work, once we become aware of any student who begins to be enamored with gang life or ultimately becomes gang affiliated, we work closely with the Chelsea Police Department and their extended network to counsel the student and family to a better choice. We encourage you to reach out to us if you become aware of gang activity in your neighborhood or with your child’s friends. Our Chelsea way is to ‘Welcome and Educate.’ Let us not have a few tarnish all the good that we do each and every day in our schools.”
Chief Kyes and City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they will be vigilant to make sure gangs don’t return to the schools or the school kids looking for recruits.
“Schools are supposed to be a safe place for learning and gangs have no place in schools,” he said, noting the coordination that the Chelsea Police has with CHS when it appears a student is headed down the wrong path or may need help.
TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL ORGANIZATION
Additionally, Homeland Security officials announced that they were holding 10 individuals who weren’t facing charges, but had significant ties to the gang and were not in the country legally.
According to court documents, in 2012, MS-13 became the first, and remains the only, street gang to be designated by the United States government as a “transnational criminal organization.” MS-13 is one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States, and is an international criminal organization with over 6,000 members in the United States, with a presence in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia, as well as over 30,000 members internationally, mostly in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
In Massachusetts, MS-13 is largely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and has members operating throughout the Commonwealth, with higher concentrations in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, Lynn, Revere, and Somerville.
Violence is a central tenet of MS-13, Ortiz said, as evidenced by its core motto — “mata, viola, controla,” translated as, “kill, rape, control.”
During the course of this investigation, she said, this violence was directed against rival gangs, particularly the 18th Street gang, and anyone who was perceived to have disrespected MS-13. The 18th Street gang, another criminal organization in Central America with members living in the United States, has been a longstanding rival of MS-13. MS-13 members and associates often commit murders and attempted murders using machetes, knives, and chains in order to intimidate rival gang members – weapons that were confiscated and in full display on a table in front of Ortiz during the press conference.
The indictment further alleges that members of the MS-13 organization in Massachusetts sell cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, and commit robberies, in order to generate income to pay monthly dues to the incarcerated leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador. This money is allegedly used to pay for weapons, cell phones, shoes, food, and other supplies for MS-13 members in and out of jail in El Salvador. It was alleged that the money is typically sent from wire transfer stores right in the communities.
The Record performed an investigative report in 2013 about the amounts of wire transfers in 2012 from stores in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett and Revere. The paper found that $247 million left those communities in one year, with $72 million of that money going to El Salvador.