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MS-13 members get life in prison for 2016 murders at Annandale park

Holmes Run Stream Valley Park (via Google Maps)

Five MS-13 members have been sentenced to life in prison yesterday for kidnapping and killing two teens at Annandale’s Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in 2016.

Elmer Zelaya Martinez, Ronald Herrera Contreras, Henry Zelaya Martinez, Pablo Velasco Barrera, and Duglas Ramirez Ferrera were each handed six terms of life imprisonment as well as two 120-month terms by U.S. District Court Judge Rossie D. Alston, Jr., the Justice Department announced yesterday.

A federal jury convicted the men in July for the brutal murders of a 17-year-old Falls Church resident — identified by prosecutors by the initials E.E.E.M. — on Aug. 18, 2016 and a 14-year-old Alexandria resident, identified as S.A.A.T., on Sept. 26, 2016.

“This is a profoundly disturbing case involving gang members taking the lives of young members of our community,” Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said. “We are proud to work with our federal partners on cases like this to keep Fairfax County and surrounding communities safe.”

Ranging in age from 24 to 31, the men attacked and stabbed E.E.E.M. over 100 times after meeting him at Holmes Run park, because they “erroneously suspected” that he was a member of the rival 18th Street gang, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

On the night of August 28, 2016, the gang lured E.E.E.M. to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park in Fairfax County under the pretense that there was going to be a gang meeting there. Instead, in a wooded area of the park, gang members restrained, attacked, and killed E.E.E.M., stabbing and chopping him more than 100 times with knives, a machete, and a pickaxe. Afterwards, the gang broke one of E.E.E.M.’s legs so that his body would fit into the pre-dug hole that was nearby.

Prosecutors say S.A.A.T. was killed in a similar manner based on an unfounded suspicion that he was a police informant:

The gang told S.A.A.T. that there was going to be a gang meeting later that night and encouraged him to attend. Not long thereafter, S.A.A.T. went outside in his pajamas, telling his mother he was just taking out the trash. Eventually, several gang members picked up S.A.A.T. and drove him to the same park where they had killed E.E.E.M. The gang members restrained, attacked, and killed S.A.A.T., stabbing and chopping him with knives, machetes, and a pickaxe. They also filmed the murder with a cell phone so that they could prove to gang leaders in the United States and in El Salvador that they deserved to be promoted in rank. Once S.A.A.T. was dead, the gang broke his legs and tied him up with his own pajama pants so that he would fit into the shallow grave that was dug for him that night.

Police didn’t find the remains of the two teens until March 2017 after they received a tip that prompted a two-day search of the area, according to news reports at the time. The park was also the site of murders by different MS-13 members in 2013.

The five men sentenced yesterday were all convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder in aid of racketeering activity, conspiracy to kidnap, murder in aid of racketeering activity, and kidnapping resulting in death.

There was a total of 17 defendants in the case, including nine people who pleaded guilty before the trial earlier this year, according to the DOJ.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Jessica Aber called the life sentences a “fitting” response to “appallingly violent murders” that resulted in “wrecked families and fear-stricken communities.”

“They will protect the public from these five defendants, send a message to other members and associates of MS-13 that there will be severe consequences for committing violent crimes in furtherance of their gang’s illicit activities, and provide a measure of justice for the victims and their families,” Aber said in a statement.

Image via Google Maps

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