Four of the five suspects charged in the gang-related murder of a New Jersey man in October are in the U.S. illegally, according to multiple news reports released this week.
Authorities believe the five suspects are associated with Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a criminal gang that hails from Los Angeles, California, and boasts a strong presence in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Prosecutors say the suspects, whose ages range from 16 to 21, used Facebook to lure their victim from New Jersey to Maryland. At least three of the suspects entered the country illegally, and a fourth carries a federal immigration detainer, which indicates he is set for deportation. Fearing the risk that the suspects would flee the country if given the chance, authorities are holding them without bond.
“The state feels strongly that for everybody’s safety, every conspirator in this case should remain incarcerated.”
“This is all MS-13 related,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Marybeth Ayres said at a court hearing Thursday for one of the suspects, according to The Washington Post. “The state feels strongly that for everybody’s safety, every conspirator in this case should remain incarcerated.”
But the Center for Immigration Studies noted that Montgomery County is listed as a designated “sanctuary,” meaning the county’s officials typically decline to notify federal authorities of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
Reynaldo A Granados-Vasquez, 21; Jose Israel Melendez-Rivera, 18; Katerine Solorzano-Aparicio, 17; Neris Moreno, 19; and Jackelin Leiba-Esperanza, 16, have been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in connection with the homicide of Jordy Mejia, 22. Leiba-Esperanza has been charged as an adult.
Authorities say the five suspects conspired to lure Mejia from New Jersey to Maryland by communicating with him using a fake Facebook account for a person named Shaila Smith, whom Mejia thought he would be meeting. Mejia informed his mother of the meeting on Oct. 15 before setting out to meet Smith. On Oct. 18, his mother filed a missing persons report when Mejia failed to return or return communication with her.
After arriving in Maryland, authorities say the suspects killed Mejia and buried his body in a shallow grave. Hikers discovered the body Nov. 12.
Mejia’s murder represents one of the most recent cases in a string of murders reportedly carried out by MS-13 gang members. Since it originated in Los Angeles during the 1980s, MS-13’s influence and violent activities have spread throughout the United States, Central America, Mexico, and Canada.