Metro

MS-13 gang arrests prompt warnings to local teens

Reina Lemus, an organizer with LUMA (Latinos United in Massachusetts) and a leader at Most Holy Redeemer Church, said she is concerned about gang activity in East Boston.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Reina Lemus, an organizer with LUMA (Latinos United in Massachusetts) and a leader at Most Holy Redeemer Church, said she is concerned about gang activity in East Boston.

Jose knows to keep his distance whenever they’re near.

The teen, who attends East Boston High School, has heard students suspected of being members of the notoriously vicious MS-13 gang say, “Let’s go bro . . . let’s do something.”

And that, Jose knows, could only mean bad news, so he stays away just like his mother told him to.

Advertisement

Prevention, intervention, and conversation around the issue of gangs was on the table Sunday at Most Holy Redeemer Church in East Boston, where religious leaders and parishioners vowed to steer youths toward positive outlets just days after 56 members of the MS-13 gang were indicted on charges of murder, drug-trafficking, and other crimes.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“The church and the whole neighborhood are trying to provide opportunities for young people,” said the Rev. Thomas Domurat, pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Church. “Teenage years are not easy years. We know that it’s a challenge.

“People need to belong somewhere. We need people to feel like they can belong,” he said. “The more young people are a part of the community, that’s going to be a deterrent.”

The violent, international street gang recruited vulnerable teenagers — mostly immigrants or the children of immigrants — at high schools in Greater Boston, and in such communities as East Boston, Chelsea, and Everett.

Its members are mostly Salvadoran nationals or first-generation Salvadoran-Americans, but the gang also includes Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, and other Central and South American immigrants, according to the FBI.

Advertisement

Jose’s mother, a native of El Salvador who fled the country two decades ago to escape violence there, said she talks to her son about gangs.

“That’s not a friend . . . anyone inviting him to do something like that,” she said. “[I tell him] do not listen to people like that.”

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
“It’s something that you think about,” said Andres Munoz (right). “It makes you want to make the decision to move somewhere else.”

More than a dozen of those arrested on Friday were found to be connected to five murders, including the killings of three teenagers in East Boston: Wilson Martinez, 15, and Irvin de Paz, 15, who were killed in September, and Cristofer Perez-De La Cruz, 16, who was killed early last month.

“It’s very scary, especially because some of them are the same age as my kids,” said Ana Algaranaz, 39, of Revere, a former East Boston resident who attends Most Holy Redeemer Church.

Algaranaz, who has five children, including three foster children, said she tells them to come to her about any issues they might run into.

Advertisement

“We always encourage them to please let us know if someone asks them something or tells you something . . . we try to keep our kids safe,” she said.

One of her foster children said her uncle had been killed by members of MS-13 in El Salvador.

News of the arrests has forced some in East Boston to consider relocating.

“It’s something that you think about,” said Andres Munoz, 33, a parishioner who moved to East Boston from Colombia 15 years ago. “It makes you want to make the decision to move somewhere else.”

Munoz, who attended East Boston High as a teenager, said he recalled hearing about MS-13 then, but that the youths were more involved in after-school activities.

Munoz, the father of a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, is also caring for his 12-year-old brother, who wants to attend school in East Boston instead of Roxbury, where he goes to a charter school.

But Munoz said he is cautious about his brother going to school in East Boston.

“[I’m] just trying to keep him away from these guys,” he said.

Munoz said he bought a house in the neighborhood a year ago, but has plans to move “somewhere else to give [the children] a chance to grow up in a safe area.”

Reina Lemus, a leader within the parish, said she and members of the congregation are concerned.

“I’ve been very scared since a few months ago,” she said, referring to the recent murders.

Meanwhile, authorities continue to investigate the gang. Edgar Pleitez, also known as Cadejo, 26, 0f East Boston was arrested at Miami International Airport Saturday night, according to Christina Sterling, a spokeswoman for US District Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. Pleitez was arriving from Guatemala.

He faces charges that include racketeering and conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine.

Detention hearings will be held Feb. 8 and 9, according to a statement from Sterling.

During a program at the church after Mass, Lucy Pineda, executive director of Latinos United in Massachusetts, an Everett-based nonprofit, encouraged parents to find out with whom their children are associating.

“We know there are these kinds of problems,” she said. “We asked how can we help or give support. This problem is much bigger than we think.”

The Rev. Thomas Domurat celebrated the Spanish-language Mass at Most Holy Redeemer Church on Sunday, where a program was held to follow up on and respond to recent gang raids in East Boston and Chelsea.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
The Rev. Thomas Domurat celebrated the Spanish-language Mass at Most Holy Redeemer Church on Sunday, where a program was held to follow up on and respond to recent gang raids in East Boston and Chelsea.

Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.