The transnational gang MS-13 has taken root in formerly placid suburban counties across the country — it seems nowhere more brutally than in Long Island’s Suffolk County.
The ultra-violent group is linked to 11 recent murders in the hamlets of Brentwood and Central Islip, where gang members have allegedly hacked and beaten to death teenagers as young as 15 years old, reports the Associated Press. Parents are afraid of letting their kids go out into the streets and even to school, and some teens say MS-13 members will kill over any perceived slight, especially if a potential recruit refuses to join the gang.
“Kids are losing their childhoods,” Jennifer Suarez, whose 15-year-old niece was killed last year, told the AP. “You can see the stress on their faces as they get ready. It’s like, you know, they’re suiting up for battle.”
MS-13 has expanded in Suffolk County by recruiting young immigrants from Central American countries, many of whom arrived in the U.S. as a part of the unaccompanied minor surge from 2014 to 2016. The gang, founded in the 1980s in Los Angeles by refugees fleeing El Salvador’s civil war, maintains close relations with affiliates in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Long Island has become fertile recruiting ground for local MS-13 groups because it’s a common destination for the resettlement of unaccompanied minors. Since the fall of 2103, Suffolk County has received 4,500, and neighboring Nassau County has received 3,800, Yahoo News reported.
As MS-13 has grown, it has only become more violent: the gang has allegedly murdered six young people in Suffolk County in the past two months alone.
Police found the bodies of four young men on April 13 who had been stabbed to death in a park in Central Islip. And in March, authorities arrested eight suspected MS-13 members for the murders of two teenage girls in Brentwood. In that incident, the gang allegedly killed Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, as revenge for a gang dispute at Brentwood High School.
The problem has become so severe that the New York State Police were forced to create a special unit to help local police departments fight the gang. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered 25 additional state officers to patrol Brentwood and Central Islip, and the unit will share surveillance equipment, vehicles and intelligence with local law enforcement. (RELATED: New York State Police Create Gang Unit To Fight MS-13)
“Their [MS-13’s] calling card is fear and intimidation. And they prey on the working families of Brentwood and Central Islip,” Cuomo said at a news conference on Wednesday. “Our job is to say to MS-13, ‘enough is enough.'”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone says a federal response is necessary to eradicate the gang. He asked U.S. immigration authorities on Monday to coordinate more closely with local officials when placing young people in communities and school districts.
“We know that MS-13 is here, and they are following up with them and are trying to recruit them,” Bellone said. “In the absence of us providing those resources and gang prevention resources, MS-13 will fill the gap.”
Federal law enforcement officials in the Trump administration have promised to make fighting MS-13 a central part of their immigration and border security strategy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who on Friday met with local law enforcement officials at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, vowed to prosecute MS-13 members “to the fullest extent of the law.” (RELATED: Sessions Set To Address Gang Violence To Police On Long Island)
“I have a message for the gangs that target our young people,” he said. “We are targeting you. We are coming after you.”
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