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Gangs' Deadly Reach Growing Younger

"Silva is a big clique, and all are from Northern Virginia. It's home-grown," an MS-13 member said. "But it's not a respected clique -- it's always been disgraceful to MS. They are young and stupid. They just want to be number one. They just want to be big. . . . But some of them are just all talk."

Still, the Silvas make life difficult for Kang and the children who attend her club.


Anthony Campos's family has set up a memorial at home for the teenager, who was killed by alleged gang members. (Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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Residents Voice Fears at Forum on Gang Growth (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2005)
Md. Gang Member Guilty in Slaying (The Washington Post, Jan 29, 2005)
Teens Not Targeted In N.Va. Shooting (The Washington Post, Jan 26, 2005)
Family Says Slain Va. Teen Was Not Involved in a Gang (The Washington Post, Jan 25, 2005)
Gangs Sharpen Intimidation (The Washington Post, Jan 16, 2005)
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Nearly all the homes in the neighborhood have been marked with gang graffiti. Kang tells the children to keep their eyes low and avoid talking to gang members.

Kang had never heard of MS-13 when she began her club in the basement of the church in 1994. She was the church's classically trained choir director. Then her pastor asked her to run a summer camp for neighborhood kids.

"I thought it was just going to be some type of school," she said. "I didn't know what I was really getting into at first."

She soon learned the risks when MS-13 members began harassing the children as they walked to camp. As if to remind them of its turf claim, the gang occasionally spray-painted its graffiti on the apartment facing the church.

Kang decided to stick with the job after learning that the students did not have a safe place to go, not even their homes.

Santo Guzman, who works in the kitchen of a nearby restaurant, said she wants to move, but she fears she could not afford an apartment elsewhere for her five sons. A roach-infested living room holds the family's entire collection of furniture -- two metal folding chairs, an old wooden table and a television. The boys' clothes litter the place because they do not have a dresser in their bedroom.

Almost half of Kang's children share apartments with other immigrant families or day laborers. The family of an 11-year-old girl shares a two-bedroom Culmore apartment with several strangers who work as day laborers. One stranger has MS-13 tattoos. To go to the bathroom -- there is only one in the apartment -- she asks her mother to escort her.

The mother of another 11-year-old at Kang's club said what scares her is that the faces of MS-13 are barely older than her daughter's.

"I feel relieved when she's [at Kang's club] and when she's at home," said the mother, who works until 7 every night cleaning houses. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she fears the gang. "At night, I don't let her go outside."

Kang's club has been a magnet for the children of Culmore. About 50 children showed up the first day about a decade ago. In 2002, it became affiliated with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and reached a membership of 200 children, most of whom attend elementary and middle school.

Kang always keeps the church doors locked and requires the children to carry plastic ID cards. Barbed wire was added to a fence separating MS-13's territory and her sanctuary. But those measures do not keep the gang's influence out of her club. She has caught a few elementary school students drawing MS-13 "tattoos" in pen ink on their hands.

About three years after the Camposes moved to Fairfax County, members of a new gang called South Side Locos began hanging out on the streets of their neighborhood. Most were young teenagers. Anthony met and befriended some of them at school and began hanging out with them on weekends.


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