By Matthew Barakat, The Associated Press
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Police in northern Virginia announced charges Tuesday against a dozen alleged members and associates of the MS-13 street gang for four separate slayings in 2019, including three killings that authorities say were committed at random by gang members seeking to gain status within the organization.
At a news conference Tuesday in Woodbridge, Prince William County Police Acting Chief Jarad Phelps said the arrests have effectively decimated the “Sitios” clique of MS-13.
“They were a danger to our public” Phelps said.
Four additional individuals were arrested on drug charges related to what police said was a large-scale trafficking operation run by the Sitios clique to bring cocaine from New York into Virginia.
The slayings include the deaths of Milton Lopez, 40, and Jairo Mayorga, 39, who were found dead from gunshot wounds in a wooded area of Woodbridge. The other victims included Eric Tate II, 25, and Antonio Smith, 37, who were shot and killed in separate incidents in Woodbridge and Dumfries while walking down the street, police said.
In a news release, police said the slayings of Mayorga, Tate and Smith were conducted by MS-13 members looking to increase their standing within the gang. Phelps declined to discuss the gang members’ motives beyond that.
Phelps said more than 100 officers from multiple agencies investigated the slayings, which occurred between June and September of 2019.
A regional gang task force has targeted MS-13 and other gangs in northern Virginia. The gangs have been charged with murders, sex trafficking of minors, extortion and drug trafficking. In federal court in Alexandria earlier this year, an MS-13 leader in El Salvador became the first gang leader to face terrorism charges in the U.S. Another alleged MS-13 leader is facing a death penalty trial next year on charges of kidnapping and killing two northern Virginia teenagers in 2016.
Police said there are some connections between the charges announced Tuesday and the federal cases, but did not provide any details.
One of the 12 charged in the deaths is at large and believed to be in El Salvador; the rest are in custody.