The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

MS-13 gang members accused of killing teen claimed Satan ‘wanted a soul,’ police say

Here is what you need to know about MS-13, a street gang with an international reach. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

The Houston police sergeant who faced reporters Friday grimaced with each question. What did the dead girl’s parents say? How was MS-13 involved? Should people be frightened?

There hadn’t been nearly as much interest when the 15-year-old’s body was found more than two weeks earlier, lying in a street with bullet wounds.

But sensational details of her death had trickled out, and now the reporters wanted to know more.

The investigation was ongoing, Sgt. Chris Sturdivant said. Not even the victim’s name could be released.

But after so many questions, Sturdivant finally made the same startling claim as prosecutors: “There was some, uh, satanic type activity taking place.”

A few days earlier, two men had been arrested, each charged with murder and aggravated kidnapping, accused of holding three girls in an apartment controlled by their small branch of Mara Salvatrucha, or Ms-13 — a transnational street gang with a reputation for extreme violence.

Two of the girls survived. What happened to the third was laid out in the defendants’ initial court hearing last week.

Miguel Angel Alvarez-Flores and Diego Hernandez-Rivera showed up to their hearing in shorts, as seen in the Houston Chronicle’s courtroom video. Alvarez-Flores, who prosecutors said led the cell under his gang name, “Diabolico,” grinned and waved at TV cameras before a prosecutor related the account of a 14-year-old who managed to escape the apartment.

The girls were held in the apartment with six MS-13 members, led by Alvarez-Flores, authorities said. Formed in El Salvador’s civil war, the gang is believed to have more than 6,000 members in the United States, according to CNN.

It has been implicated in a wave of murders in Virginia, Texas and New York, where gang members are accused of attacking high school students with machetes and baseball bats.

In the Houston apartment, the prosecutor said, “Diabolico” kept a satanic shrine.

‘What we have now is a civil war’ in El Salvador

One of the girls who was held at the apartment told police about the last time she saw the slain girl, whom she knew as Genesis.

“One night during her confinement, she observed an incident where Genesis made an outburst against a shrine dedicated to the gang members’ satanic beliefs,” the prosecutor said.

In the courtroom, Hernandez-Rivera brushed his nose.

“Diabolico (Alvarez-Flores) was offended at the outburst,” the prosecutor said. He approached the statue and offered it a cigarette. Then he walked back to the other gang members.

“The beast did not want a material offering, but wanted a soul,” Alvarez-Flores said, according to the prosecutor.

When the girl next awoke, Genesis was gone.

She reappeared on the morning of Feb. 16, dead in the middle of a street near Houston’s Chinatown area — no ID, a ring of little elephants around one finger.

She had a bullet hole in her head, and another in her chest, both of which appeared to have been fired at close range, police said.

It took detectives some time to piece together what happened. But on Monday, the Houston Chronicle reported, SWAT officers raided the apartment and arrested Alvarez-Flores and Hernandez-Rivera — both of whom allegedly admitted involvement in the girl’s death.

With two young people killed, two more bodies found, police see rising gang threat

“Prepare yourself; it is your turn,” Alvarez-Flores told Hernandez-Rivera after he returned from the shrine, the prosecutor said. “He knew this was an order by his leader to kill” Genesis.

A group of gang members drove off with the victim, the prosecutor said, telling her they were going to meet a marijuana dealer.

Instead, they pulled over. The teenager sat down in the grass.

The prosecutor said Alvarez-Flores pulled out a pistol and waved it at Hernandez-Rivera, who took it and shot the girl.

In the courtroom. Alvarez-Flores’s hand twitched as the interpreter asked the prosecutor to repeat the account of the killing.

But he said nothing, only nodding when asked whether he wanted a court-appointed attorney. Like his co-accused, he declined when asked whether he wanted the Salvadoran Embassy to be told of his arrest.

Police say both men, like most MS-13 members, are in the country illegally. They added that more charges could follow, as well as additional arrests in the death of the teenager.

More reading:

Brazil’s prison massacres are a frightening window into gang warfare