Stabbing victim had staved off pressure to join gangs, officers say

Dennys Guzman-Saenz
Dennys Guzman-Saenz "had never really done anything wrong," officers say. (Family Photo)
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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010

With no school scheduled the next day, and no clue he was about to be kidnapped and killed, Dennys Guzman-Saenz walked from his home in Langley Park to a nearby bus stop. It was just after 7 p.m. The baby-faced teen, having just turned 15, was on his way to visit a friend.

"He could have been anyone's child," Montgomery County Detective Larry Haley said Saturday. "This kid had never really done anything wrong."

More than a year later, 11 suspects have pleaded guilty in the case, the latest two during hearings last week. Guzman-Saenz was abducted, stabbed more than 60 times as he begged for his life and dumped into a creek in Gaithersburg.

Montgomery prosecutors called it the most disturbing gang killing they have ever seen -- one made all the more tragic because the victim had staved off pressure to join that lifestyle.

"We have absolutely no information that he was a gang member," said Jeffrey Wennar, an assistant state's attorney in the county's gang prosecution unit who handled the case.

A freshman at High Point High School, Guzman-Saenz stood 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 130 pounds and was a fleet midfielder on the soccer field. He lived with his mother and two sisters. Friends called him "Chino," owing to his Asian-looking features.

The night of Jan. 18, 2009, he stood under 34-degree skies at a 14th Avenue bus stop, wearing a North Face jacket. The bus didn't arrive. He called a relative to arrange for another family member to swing by and take him to his friend's.

Instead, a blue Honda Accord carrying five members of the 18th Street gang spotted him and pulled up. As the recent plea hearings made clear, the gang members mistakenly thought he was a member of a rival gang, MS-13. Two of them got out of the car, attacked him and dragged him into the back seat. They drove into Montgomery, stabbed him in the car, arrived at a park, kept stabbing him and tossed him into the frigid water.

Early on in the case, detectives studied Guzman-Saenz's MySpace postings, looking for anyone with whom he'd had a beef. Instead they found the young man grousing about his mother keeping him on a tight leash.

Haley spoke to officers in Prince George's County who knew Guzman-Saenz and said he was headed down the right path, despite being surrounded by MS-13 members in his neighborhood.

"Did he know gang members? Yes. He couldn't not know them," Haley said.

Police found no indication that he had joined MS-13, which generally involves being beaten by other members as part of the initiation. "He hadn't been jumped in, and it was not like he wasn't getting pressure," Haley said.

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