Five suspects have been arrested in a gang-style slaying in which prosecutors say the victim was lured to Maryland from New Jersey under a ruse that he would be meeting a woman with whom he had been communicating on Facebook.
“This is all MS-13 related,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Marybeth Ayres said during a court hearing Thursday for one suspect, Katerine Solorzano-Aparicio, 17, a student at Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg. She is charged as an adult in the case.
Ayres asked that Solorzano-Aparicio be held without bond, arguing that her status as an undocumented immigrant made her a flight risk and that her connection to the case put her in danger.
“The state feels strongly that for everybody’s safety, every conspirator in this case should remain incarcerated,” Ayres said.
The gang MS-13 — or Mara Salvatrucha — has made a resurgence in the Washington area over the past year, according to authorities. Known for its extreme violence and loyalty among members, the gang is active across the United States and in Central America.
On Nov. 12, hikers near Game Preserve Road in the Gaithersburg area found a decomposed body. Detectives later identified the remains as those of Jordy Mejia, 22, of Guttenberg, N.J., who had been missing since Oct. 15.
Officials have not said how they think Mejia was killed; it isn’t clear whether they know with certainty, given the condition of his remains.
In court Thursday, District Judge Eric Nee ordered Solorzano-Aparicio held without bond. Four other suspects arrested this week in the case, ranging in age from 16 to 21, also have been denied bond.
Three of the five were most recently living in Maryland, according to court records and hearings. The other two were last living in New Jersey.
The suspects’ statuses as recent immigrants with ambiguous or illegal immigration status — and limited ties to the community — have played a role in bond decisions in the case.
Of the five, at least three are in the country illegally, according to court proceedings. One of the others has an immigration detainer lodged against him, according to jail officials, an indication he also may be in the country illegally.
An examination of Mejia’s Facebook account revealed that he had been communicating in October with someone in Maryland he thought was named Shaila Smith. He came to Maryland, believing he was going to meet her, court files show. After arriving, he exchanged Facebook messages with Shaila Smith — which police say was not the person’s real name — and was told a car would pick him up to take him to her, the court records say.
Instead, according to police allegations filed in court, Mejia was picked up by Solorzano-Aparicio and her boyfriend, Jose Melendez-Rivera, 18. They drove him to a wooded area, where the three got out of the car, according to the records.
The victim went into the woods with Melendez-Rivera and another male suspect, and Mejia was killed, police say.
Police have identified the three other suspects as Neris Moreno, 19; Reynaldo A. Granados-Vasquez, 21; and Jackelin Leiba-Esperanza, 16, who also is charged as an adult.
The suspects’ versions of events have not been aired in public.
In court Wednesday, John Lavigne, a public defender representing Moreno and Leiba-Esperanza, said the case “is at best very circumstantial.”