A Montgomery County judge denied bail yesterday to six defendants charged with attempted murder after Friday's gang-related knife attacks in the Colesville area and Wheaton, and police said they expect to make three to six additional arrests in the coming days.
Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey T. Wennar promised a swift and effective prosecution. "We are not going to tolerate this kind of behavior," he told reporters outside a Rockville courthouse.
On Friday, Wennar said, several of the defendants yelled the name of the gang Mara Salvatrucha as they stabbed two students in the parking lot of Springbrook High School. The group, also known as MS-13, is the most prominent of several violent street gangs in the Washington area.
The stabbings Friday -- at Springbrook in the Colesville area and a Target store at Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton -- left six teenagers wounded, the largest number of victims in a single day of gang violence in Montgomery. Officials say MS-13 was the aggressor in a two-pronged attack on a rival gang.
Yesterday, the six defendants sat in a room at a county detention center, watching their bond hearing over closed-circuit television. Family members and others in the courtroom viewed the young men and teenagers on a flat-panel display.
There were no shouts of gang loyalty as the defendants answered procedural questions from Circuit Court Judge Stephen P. Johnson. The mother of defendant Rolando Velasquez, 16, told Johnson through an interpreter, "The truth is that my child went to school and I do not know what happened."
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has filed documents to detain one of the suspects, Jose J. Cornejo, 25, an indication that he may have immigrated to the U.S. illegally. Wennar said Cornejo, who has prior convictions, would be tried in Montgomery before any handover to federal authorities.
In Northern Virginia, authorities are increasingly bringing gang cases to federal court, seeking to take advantage of the tougher sentences and the broader investigative techniques used by the federal government. There is no indication of federal involvement in the Montgomery prosecution.
Montgomery has had an anti-gang task force for years. Police commanders yesterday instructed Hispanic liaison officer Luis Hurtado not to speak to the media, apparently in reaction to published comments in which Hurtado has criticized county officials for being "deaf" to warnings about gangs.
"That's very unfortunate to have a gag order like that on an incredible resource for the police department," said County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee.
Lt. Eric Burnett, a police spokesman, said officers who talk to the media are "supposed to go through media services."
Burnett also said police expected to arrest three to six other people in connection with the two stabbings.
In the parking lot at Springbrook yesterday morning, an administrator distributed a letter to parents offering details about Friday's attack and information about additional security and counseling.
About 43 students were absent -- roughly double the normal number.
Administrators held two assemblies to talk to the 700-plus students taking classes at Springbrook this summer to discuss the incidents. A crisis team, including specially trained counselors, was also at the school.
By afternoon, the parking lot was crowded with more than the usual number of parents waiting to pick up students.
Oliver Riggs, security team leader at Springbrook, was standing at his usual spot yesterday, directing traffic. On Friday, he ran from his post toward the school, responding to a radio call about a disturbance. At first it looked like a fight.
As he pushed through the crowd, someone said, "Mr. Riggs, they're stabbed."
"At that point, everything changed," he said. He radioed for the two police officers who normally direct traffic nearby.
He recognized both victims as students at Springbrook. David Gamero had at least four wounds in the abdomen, chest, back and ear. There was blood everywhere.
"I started asking for T-shirts so we could put pressure on the wounds," he said. "Kids started pulling off their shirts and handing them to me."
Three girls stepped forward. One was an emergency medical technician, the others well-versed in first aid. They applied pressure to Gamero's wounds so Riggs could move on to the second victim, Juan Quito Jr.
Riggs could tell that Gamero was starting to go into shock.
"I tried to keep him as alert as possible. I kept talking to him, asking him questions. 'Who did this to you? What happened?' " He did the same with Quito.
"They described one person," Riggs said.
Five people have been charged in the Springbrook attack. Police say the attackers and the victims are linked to gangs.
But Quito's stepbrother said yesterday that he did not believe his relative is involved with gangs. Henry Flores, 27, a construction worker from El Salvador, said he had been told by family members that Quito was stabbed in the back while trying to protect Gamero.
"It's scary, because you know that this can happen in school," Flores said. "When I came here, I didn't see a lot of gangs, but in the last two years, I see more and more."
A neighbor and former high school classmate of defendant Luis A. Guzman Jr., 19, said the presence of MS-13 had been growing in his Langley Park neighborhood.
The neighbor, 17, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said that he and Guzman had played street football together and attended High Point High School in Beltsville. The neighbor estimated that 20 members of MS-13 attended the school, and he said that the dress code had been changed this past school year to prohibit clothing with the number 13.
"They can do whatever they want. No one else can stop them. They just want to run the streets," he said.
He said he has seen more people hanging out on street corners wearing bandanas, hats and jerseys in the gang's preferred blue, as well as gang graffiti on basketball courts and bridges. "They see you walking around, and they throw up a gang sign at you," he said. "You see it all over."
Staff writers Fulvio Cativo, Jerry Markon and Joshua Partlow and researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.
"We are not going to tolerate this kind of behavior," said prosecutor Jeffrey T. Wennar.