Eva Hernandez did not know about it. Hayner Rolando Flores' maternal grandmother has a heart condition, "an ugly disease," she says, and the family did not want to aggravate it.

The last photographs that her family sent show the teenage "Rolando" with no tattoos on his arms. Sitting on the porch of her house, with the yellow wall behind her, Hernandez compares the images: In 1986, when Flores' parents left for Northern Virginia, the day of the First Communion, and the more recent ones. Hernandez sees only the normal development of a child she raised from the age of 2. For her, Wednesday's news could not be further from reality.

Flores, 18, of Annandale, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Fairfax County Circuit Court to malicious wounding and illegal participation in a street gang, admitting that he took part in a machete attack that mutilated the hands of another teenager. He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison.

"He was a good boy," Hernandez said, recalling the 11 years she raised Flores. Well-behaved, intelligent, respectful, obedient, never a delinquent, never a problem, never with bad habits, she said. The adjectives coming from her wrinkled mouth are far different than those that have described Flores recently. She misses him. Her wet eyes confirmed the words. "He called me Mama" without being prompted, she said. She cared for him in the hospital like a mother whenever asthma made it hard for him to breathe.

Flores' mother, Maria Isabel Flores, and her companion fled the Salvadoran civil war and left her son with his grandparents. Northern Virginia would offer a fresh start, the couple figured, and they'd soon send for their son. But like so many other immigrants, they found that it took years to get proper documentation. They never did and had to sneak Flores in, Maria Flores has said.

Amadeo Chavez did know what had happened to his grandson when he left the village. "In the village, nobody said my grandson was a delinquent," said Chavez, Flores' paternal grandfather. He suggested an explanation for the radical change in the behavior of his grandson: "A boy who was raised by one person does not love his tatas [parents] even though they want to take him."

Flores' teacher, Marta Alicia Segovia, has a pleasant memory of the two years she taught fourth and fifth grade. Although his grades were not exceptional, he excelled in math. He also liked acting out stories and artistic expression, she added.

Neither the teacher nor Juana Nery de Arias, the assistant principal of Centro Escolar San Jose Gualoso, connected him with gangs. "He never had problems with gangs or vices," the two educators agreed.