Montgomery County police charged six young men yesterday in the knife attacks that wounded several teenagers Friday and acknowledged that the stabbings were the most serious gang violence the county has seen.
Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, was linked to the stabbings at a Colesville area high school that injured two youths, a county prosecutor said. Another official said the gang also was part of the attacks a few hours later at a Wheaton shopping plaza.
"Rarely, if ever, do you see the level of violence in our county that we saw yesterday," County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said at a news conference at police headquarters yesterday. "It's clearly a wake-up call, not just to Montgomery County but to the entire region."
MS-13 was established in the 1980s in Los Angeles by Salvadoran immigrants as a defense against Mexican gangs. It now operates in more than 30 states as well as parts of Central America.
In the Washington region, the organization has appeared most active in Northern Virginia. In June, a federal jury in Alexandria sentenced two MS-13 members to life in prison for killing a 17-year-old after she had cooperated with authorities in investigations of the gang.
Friday's stabbings injured six teenagers, five seriously, but police said yesterday that all are expected to live.
County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger declined to name the gangs that officials believe are responsible for the attacks, saying they already receive too much publicity. But prosecutor Jeffrey Wennar of the Montgomery state's attorney's office said MS-13 was involved in the incident at Springbrook High School.
"MS-13 is throughout Montgomery County," Wennar said. "It's a violent gang whose members really don't care -- its members are willing to stab someone or beat someone regardless of the consequences."
Another official source, who requested anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said the gang also was involved in the Wheaton stabbings.
"Both cases were gang-related," Manger said. "The preliminary information we have is all of the people involved in these two events were involved in rival Salvadoran gangs."
The first incident, involving five to seven attackers, occurred about 1:15 p.m. Friday at Springbrook. Two teenage students in the summer school program -- identified by police in District Court documents as David Gamero and Juan Quito Jr. -- had an argument with other students during the morning session.
After dismissal at 12:55 p.m., the two met a group of young people, some of whom they knew, and a fight broke out. Gamero was cut in the upper right abdomen, the right side of the chest and the ear. Quito suffered a 21/2-inch stab wound in the lower back.
Police who were directing traffic in the area quickly surrounded the school and stopped people leaving, including five males who were charged with attempted murder in the assaults on Gamero and Quito. Several witnesses identified the five as the attackers, police said in charging documents filed in District Court. All five were taken into custody; each gave a videotaped statement, court papers say.
The five suspects, all but one of whom live in Silver Spring, were identified by police as Luis A. Guzman Jr., 19, whose street address in Silver Spring was unknown; Harris Hauffen, 17, of the 300 block of South Hampton Drive; Kevin M. Mendoza, 18, of the 8800 block of Garland Avenue; Rolando Velasquez, 16, of the 700 block of Langley Drive; and Jose J. Cornejo, 25, of an unknown address in the Hyattsville area.
Each was charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault and conspiracy. The juveniles have been charged as adults, said Capt. Russell Hamill, director of the Special Investigation Division. All have been ordered held without bond.
Velasquez's stepfather, Pablo Palacios, denied yesterday that Velasquez was involved in a gang. "He's not that kind of people," he said.
Relatives at the homes of Hauffen and Mendoza declined to comment.
Four hours after the attack at the school, the second gang-related attack occurred at the Target store at Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton. Relying on video from the store's surveillance cameras and an eyewitness, police charged Henry Caballero, 20, with being one of at least four people involved in the attack.
The victims -- identified in court papers as Oscar Lopez, Johnathan Lopez, Francis Rodriguez and Allan Zamorra -- were stabbed in the chest, back, arms and stomach, court documents say.
"The surveillance cameras clearly show Caballero meeting with three other individuals, then running toward the victims and attacking them," police said in court documents filed in District Court. The witness pointed Caballero out to police as one of four people who participated in the stabbing, court papers say.
Caballero had a knife in his possession when he was arrested, police said. Two other knives were found at the store. A man at Caballero's home in the Adelphi area who identified himself as Caballero's father declined to speak with a reporter yesterday.
Caballero was charged with first-degree attempted murder, conspiracy, first-degree assault and weapons possession. He was ordered held without bond.
Manger said that he expected police to make additional arrests and that as many as six people were responsible for the attack at Target.
Federal law enforcement agencies have increasingly targeted illegal immigrants involved in gangs and have arrested more than 1,000 suspected gang members this year, including 11 in the Washington area.
Duncan said the county has worked to implement recommendations developed by a regional anti-gang task force. But he also said government at all levels needs to adopt a multifaceted strategy that would include more recreational activities and job programs for young people and more aggressive police intervention.
He noted that his administration's budget request this year included $517,900 to create a seven-member police anti-gang task force. Instead, the County Council adopted a budget that funded only the unit's supervisor and a car at a cost of $133,230.
"I'm not blaming anyone," Duncan said. "We have gang violence in our county, and I blame the gangsters."
Council Vice President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) said the council made a variety of cuts to Duncan's budget but added $18 million to the police department budget to fund 34 new positions.
"We are working with the county executive and the chief of police and [the county's Department of] Health and Human Services to address the gang problem," Leventhal said.
One of Duncan's advisers on Hispanic affairs, Henry Quintero, said that law enforcement agencies were doing a "wonderful job" in addressing gangs but that prevention efforts needed more weight. "I'd like to see more community outreach," he said.
Ed Clarke, director of safety and security for Montgomery County public schools, said that an education facility officer is stationed at each of the summer school sites but that the officer was not at Springbrook on Friday because he was in training.
Other school safety people were at Springbrook, however, and they were the first on the scene of the stabbings to administer first aid. Clarke added that the school system is hoping to focus its efforts on offering teachers and administrators more training on how to spot gang activity and how to identify signs that students might be leaning toward joining a gang.
Clarke said security officials will be at the school tomorrow when a meeting is scheduled to discuss the attacks.
"We don't expect any retaliatory action," he said.
Business appeared to proceed as usual at Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton yesterday, where a couple of private security guards in dark blue uniforms scanned customers entering and leaving.
Ernie Thornton, manager of the Gamestop store next to the Target where the stabbings occurred, glanced past a jumble of gumball machines toward the guards and the store's bull's-eye logo. He described how he had had to console one of his employees, who had witnessed 10 teenagers fighting Friday, with one youth lying on the ground as another stabbed him.
"When you see a guy lying in front of the store, it makes you think twice about coming to work the next day," he said. "I'm able to deal. But I'm still kind of hesitant about working in a mall where you can be stabbed at a moment's notice."
Staff writers Lori Aratani, Fulvio Cativo, Timothy Dwyer and Nelson Hernandez and staff researchers Magda Jean-Louis and Meg Smith contributed to this report.