Gangs Find Bucolic New Turf in Va.
To whatever degree drugs are a factor, the Shenandoah Valley is the place to be, Gochenour said. Shenandoah County is one of the country's meth hubs, and aspiring drug dealers find it a more pleasant business climate, with less violence involved in staking out turf than in the city. According to Gochenour, methamphetamine was selling for about $32,000 a pound in Shenandoah County in the late 1990s but is now about $4,000 a pound as the supply has grown.
The region had its biggest crackdown on MS-13 and SUR-13 early this month, when authorities raided 10 apartments, trailers and houses in Woodstock in the middle of the night and arrested 47 people, including 17 on immigration violations and 30 on drug-related charges. Although no one has been charged with gang-related crimes, officials said they believe many are gang members. They also said they learned more about the gang infrastructure during the investigation, which was extended for months when officials realized the gang connections.
Gangs are not new to the region. There have long been biker gangs, and last year, Shenandoah County was at the center of a six-state investigation of the Warlocks biker gang that led to 34 arrests, mostly on drug and weapons charges. In the mid-1990s, authorities in Winchester cracked down on a street gang that was mostly involved in petty crime. The difference with gangs such as MS-13 and SUR-13 is their record of brutality, officials say.
"Usually, gang violence is associated with drugs, money and violence. With these people, it seems to just be about violence," said Capt. Allen Sibert, who works on drug and gang cases in Warren County.
Selling these ideas won't be easy in cheery Shenandoah Valley, where road signs direct travelers to caverns, fishing holes and covered bridges and where crime is low.
Rick Lambert, whose family owns the red barn that was tagged six months ago, smiled in the most undisturbed manner when asked how he felt about being targeted by an MS-13 member.
"A week later, we got an apology letter," Lambert said of the 17-year-old, who offered to pay for the damage. "But we said we were tearing it down anyway."
Lambert surmised that the barn was targeted because Lambert's Moving and Storage is "on the outskirts of town. Nobody bothers us."
Lambert's casual attitude was mirrored even at Valley Vista apartments, where six apartments were raided a few weeks ago and where officials said MS-13 members live.
"The only problem we have is sometimes they drink in the parking lot and play loud music," said Maria Duque, 16, who translated from Spanish the opinion of her father, Virgilio, 48, about young men in the complex. The family moved to Woodstock from Mexico five years ago, she said, and has never seen any evidence of gangs, she said.
Then Maria Duque and her parents got into their van, which was parked in front of a clean red brick wall. Just a few months ago, before it was cleaned, the wall was scrawled with black writing: "MS-13."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Shenandoah County Sheriff Tim Carter looks over photographs of gang graffiti in his Woodstock office. Authorities say the drug trade and a desire for a better lifestyle have drawn gang members to the area from Northern Virginia.
(Katherine Frey - For The Washington Post)
_____From The Post_____
Warner Announces Va. 'Strike Force' to Fight Gang Activity (The Washington Post, May 25, 2004)
Gang Violence Worries N.Va. Officials (The Washington Post, May 23, 2004)
U.S. Adds $500,000 to Gang Effort (The Washington Post, May 21, 2004)
Va. Man Had Warned About Son (The Washington Post, May 20, 2004)
Assailant Had Tattoo Of Gang, Police Say (The Washington Post, May 19, 2004)