In N.Va. Gang, A Brutal Sense Of Belonging
Machete Attack Suspect Lured by Group's Culture
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 28, 2004; Page A01
It was the hands Lt. Jason Jenkins would remember.
The victim was lying on the sidewalk in front of an Alexandria apartment complex, his hands flailing in the cool night air. Jenkins had expected some kind of trouble when he got the call -- "Man down on Edsall Road" -- but not this.
It was a 16-year-old boy, waving his hands. "He was very upset. Just begging us to save his life. Saying, 'Please, save my hands,' " recalled Jenkins, a paramedic.
Jenkins looked at the hands. They were bloody.
He looked harder.
The fingers were gone. Chopped off with a machete.
"It's definitely the most inhumane act of violence I've ever run," said Jenkins, a 10-year veteran of paramedic work.
On May 13, three days after the machete attack, police swarmed into the apartment of a Salvadoran family in Annandale and snapped handcuffs on Hayner R. Flores. He was the first of three alleged gang members who would be charged in the malicious wounding of the 16-year-old.
Flores, 18, has said he did not wield the machete that night. But as the case moves forward, no one is denying his descent into the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, the biggest, most violent street gang in Northern Virginia.
Flores' story offers a glimpse into a turbulent world of poor, underage Latino immigrants, and the gangs that lure them. Just a few years ago, Flores was one more Salvadoran teenager dreaming of coming to America, reuniting with his long-absent parents, buying a sports car. But once he arrived, he struggled with the language and his family.
MS-13 offered Flores membership in a kind of tribe, his friends said. It provided Spanish-speaking friends, a sense of belonging, even a new American name.
But it was a tribe at war. Leaving a land scarred by conflict, Flores was drawn onto a new battlefield: Northern Virginia.
A Fresh Start
It was the arm Maria Isabel Flores would remember.
She was in the living room of the family's three-bedroom apartment, waiting for her son Hayner to wake up. The small room was the pride of a poor but striving family, with velour couches and a big TV in a black entertainment center, as imposing as an altar. That morning in late 2002, Flores waited until her son entered the room, and she lowered her gaze to his left forearm.
Three dots -- cigarette burns -- formed a triangle.
Her husband had warned her that their son had the dots, which represent three words: La Vida Loca. The Crazy Life. The symbol of the gangs.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Maria Isabel Flores -- with her son Elvis, 2, in Annandale -- felt guilty after her son disappeared and was picked up by police.
(Michael Robinson-Chavez -- The Washington Post)
_____From The Post_____
Machete Case Defendant In Court on Earlier Charge (The Washington Post, Jun 17, 2004)
U.S. Panel Restores Anti-Gang Funding (The Washington Post, Jun 16, 2004)
Man Receives 20 Years in Gang Attack At Va. Party (The Washington Post, Jun 5, 2004)
Youth Activists Decry Anti-Gang Fund Cuts (The Washington Post, Jun 4, 2004)
Gangs Find Bucolic New Turf in Va. (The Washington Post, May 30, 2004)