LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles-based MS-13 gang members carried out a series of grisly homicides over the past two years, including hacking a victim to death with a machete in the Angeles National Forest and carving out his heart, according to a newly unsealed indictment detailed by officials at a news conference Tuesday.
That incident happened March 6, 2017, officials said. Suspecting the victim had defaced an MS-13 graffiti, they allegedly abducted him, choked him and drove to a remote location in the Angeles National Forest where six people killed him with a machete.
They dismembered him, cut out his heart and threw his body parts into a canyon, officials said in a 73-page indictment.
Members of the group also battered a 17-year-old girl with a rock at the San Gabriel Mountains, shot a 34-year-old homeless man in a Valley Glen park because they "wanted to see the victim’s tattoos to determine if he was from a rival gang," stabbed a 26-year-old man in an abandoned property near downtown L.A. before dumping his body in a suitcase on the 14 Freeway in Agua Dulce, beat an 18-year-old to death with a baseball bat on the rooftop of a Hollywood building and fatally shot a man in Malibu Hills, prosecutors allege.
Another victim, 16-year-old Brayan Andino, was lured by two female gang associates to Lake Balboa, where he was then abducted by other gang members, officials said.
Andino’s body was later found at the bottom of Lopez Canyon, triggering the investigation that eventually led to the indictment, Los Angeles police Deputy Chief Horace Frank said.
With help from local officials, federal authorities have charged 22 MS-13 members linked to this recent spate of violence they believe to have resulted from certain factions of the transnational gang attempting to exert dominance in Los Angeles.
One faction, the Fulton clique, required potential recruits to kill someone before they could officially join the group, officials said.
"We haven’t seen this level of violence associated with MS-13 in Southern California," said Paul Delacourt, who’s in charge of the FBI’s L.A. field office.
Many of those accused are young individuals who came to the country within the last four years, Delacourt said. Only three of them are over 24 years old.
They communicated about their crimes through social media, posted photos of themselves online throwing MS-13 hand signs and dealt in narcotics to fund their activities, according to authorities.
Several of the victims are also recent immigrants, some of them suspected of belonging to rival gangs who had cooperated with authorities in their home countries, Delacourt said.
"They are preying on their own community and that is what we are here to stop," Delacourt said.
Most of the defendants had already been in state or federal custody. Officials said the indictment was unsealed after the final four defendants were arrested in the past three days.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said her office has also charged seven adults and 10 minors in connection with six murders in the county between 2017 and 2019.
"These gang members sought out young victims in their teens and in their early 20s who were new to this country," Lacey said. "Many had recently immigrated from El Salvador and Honduras. They were alone, looking to fit in with others from native countries but instead they met their demise quickly at the hands of gang members who preyed upon them."
MS-13 was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s and has since grown into a transnational gang that counts thousands of members in the U.S. and other countries, officials said.
Although officials continue to investigate gang activities in Southern California, Delacourt said the recent indictment "is a major step taking out some of the most violent members of MS-13."