Three Dead After Gang-Related Shooting

By Philip Rucker, Eric Rich and Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 1, 2006; 4:28 PM

Four men were shot, three of them fatally, in what police believe was an MS-13 gang-related shooting around midnight Friday outside a Prince George's County apartment complex.

Witnesses told authorities that the assailants identified themselves as members of the Latino street gang, Mara Salvatrucha, before firing the shots, one police source said. It is the first homicide of the year for the Adelphi and Langley Park area, police said.

A second police source, who like the first declined to be identified citing the ongoing investigation, confirmed the shooting is believed to have been MS-13 related, but could not say for sure whether the victims identified themselves as members of the gang.

Police are still looking for five to six males they believe fired five shots outside the apartment complex in the 1900 block of Erie Street in Adelphi. Authorities believe the suspects fled the scene on foot. No suspects have been identified or caught.

Two men died at the scene and one died at a local hospital. A fourth was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, said police.

The shooting occurred in an area that has experienced a significant decrease in crime in the last year. In District 1, the police district that includes Adelphi, Langley Park and other communities, the total number of homicides has dropped dramatically from last year. In 2005, there were 53 homicides in the district. So far this year, there have been 14 homicides, police said.

"We've enjoyed a good 2006 in Langley Park and Adelphi," said Maj. Kevin Davis, the District 1 commander. "We don't want this incident to spark more violence. We really need to solve this ASAP."

Davis attributed the drop in homicides to more focused police work and community involvement. He said he has deployed an additional six to 10 officers from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily in Langley Park, and he also credited the work of the anti-gang task force.

"The community is used to seeing those guys around," Davis said.

Investigators were at the apartment complex this morning, canvassing the area for suspects and interviewing witnesses, Prince George's police spokesman Clinton Copeland said.

Copeland said all four victims and the suspects are Hispanic. Police have not named the victims because they are still contacting their next of kin. The three who died were 19, 20 and 29 years old. The man who is 21.

Two of the men who died were from Montgomery County and one was from Northern Virginia, Copeland said. The wounded man is from Prince George's.

The second source said investigators are developing two early theories of motive: The first is that the shooting erupted from a dispute over a woman. The second theory is that the shooting was somehow connected to a possible scheme by MS-13 to extort money out of residents of the complex.

MS-13 was established in the 1980s in Los Angeles by Salvadoran immigrants as a defense against Mexican gangs. It now operates across the country as well as in parts of Central America.

Last August, federal authorities in Maryland indicted 19 men on racketeering charges in the most aggressive legal assault on the gang in the Washington region.

Police have documented 1,300 gang members in Prince George's as of April, but authorities acknowledge that these figures are not certain.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company