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tv   This Is Life With Lisa Ling  CNN  September 23, 2018 10:30pm-11:30pm PDT

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have become a surprising battle ground. there's very large communities in central america. and many of the people here have
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come ms-13 is back and a spree of gang murders in maryland and virginia have made headlines. a total of four people now dead. the notorious gang. . federal authorities cracked down a decade ago and many membersen went to prison but we're seeing a resurgence. >> parks have become killing grounds. for the last several years they have been tracking the murders for the "washington post."
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>> would you say the grooif krooims are more savage? >> the thing that's struck me is you have teams carrying out killings of other teams using machetes, sticks, stones. it's become a major problem in the area. >> one of these murders stands out from the rest. that of 15-year-old high school freshman demaryius rivas. her mother ned violence and came to america seeking a safer life for her family. after getting a foothold in maryland, she sent for her daughter. >> the big question is why, why are these children making the dangerous trek to the united states.
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first of all, family. a lot of kids want to reunite with their family in the united states. the is second is violence. the vie lengs is at an all time high. >> a new life in america should have b meant a shot at a brighter future for her. but that's not what happened. on january 8, 2017, she arrived at this park in virginia and that was the last time she was seen alive. >> all the suspects read between ages 15 and 21. 10 people were arrested for a brutal murder. they go right here into this parking lot. this is where things got started. >> so it just happened in the the middle of the day us. >> yeah. ms-13, they will lure someone to a park like this under the pretense of smoking marijuana or have female associates promise sex to someone. people will come to the park and
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be jumped by. five or ten members of the gang. >> she had a history of running away from home. while she was not a member of ms-13, she was involved with one. the aspiring rapper. christian had recently been accused of stealing from other gang members. though he was in trouble and getting death threats, he remained defiant and taunted enemies on youtube. he posted this song four weeks before he was found stabbed and bludgeoned to death in a virginia park. a group of ms members loyal to christian accused demaryius of being the person who lured him to his death. they wanted her to pay with her
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life. so there were people waiting for her. >> when she arrived, there was ten members of a local click of ms-13 waiting for her. >> do you think all ten of those people knew she was going to be killed that day. >> i think some of the other people were less involved. they thought they were coming here to rough her up. but i don't think they knew she was going to be killed. >> in broad daylight, she was taken off trail and led deep into the woods. what unfolded there was recorded on a cell phone by her assailants and still images from the video were later released to the public. and so there initially interrogating her. >> they want to know what her
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role was in the killing of this other gang member so they were asking her questions about who she knows was involved. she locks like a girl you would see at the mall. but instead she's being. questioned by a very violent gang. >> what is her demeanor when all of this is happening? >> she's yelling back at them. they are hitting her. it's a terrible thing to watch. it shows her with her shirt off and no shoes just on a bitterly cold day in january and they said they wanted to make her feel the same cold that christian felt. >> over the course of two hours, gang members took her to several locations in the park where she was interrogated and tortured. this was her final stop, a train trestle underpass just below the d.c. beltway.
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>> what is this place? >> this is the location where the ms-13 members dumped her body after they killed her in the park. they took her down here and put her face down in a puddle of water and dragged rail road ties over the top of her body, kind of like these here. they left her here for a month before the body was found by police. >> just a week later, a second woman venus went missing. >> like her, she was not known to be a member of ms-13, but she dated the gangster. >> please help us find her. >> when reporters arrived at the home to interview her mother, she suddenly reappeared. >> she left in part out of fear following a suspected murder of her boyfriend in prince william county. >> police said they believe vooe nus's appearance may be part of a bigger case. >> what police didn't reveal
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about this unfolding drama was that venus had been identified as a person of interest in the murder. within hours, she was in police custody and under interrogation. >> we're glad you're home safe. this is about what happened at the park. i need to understand. what happened. >> i mean, yes, i did hit that girl. >> there's some people walking by. >> listen, you listen to me, right?
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the fairfax county courthouse, i have come here to watch the killer make a plea. i have covered stories of murder before, but none this horrendous or complex. a sentiment shared by the virginia county prosecutor. >> do you have any sense of what went wrong? >> a lot of people come from violent backgrounds in central america and seems to get in their heads that it's a way to get. status to be a violent person and it's hard for me to understand you feel like shaking these kids. thanks, guys.
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>> does it bother you, what happened? do you think about it? sometimes? >> it's hard for me to fathom how and why one young girl would execute another. was it simply a love triangle that spiralled out of control? or had venus and demaryius been used in some way by ms-13. the entire murder had been recorded by one of the assailants and shown in court.
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venus is seen taunting her victim. then she stabs her 13 times with a serrated knife. a second assailant completes the execution with a sharpened stick. a group of gang members standby and watch. just turned 18 a couple days ago pled guilty to all three counts. murder in the first degree, abduction and gang participation. and the prosecution even though she pled guilty wanted to show parts of the video of the kill ing and it was absolutely one of the most horrific things i have ever seen. but i us do want the to understand the story behind that video. >> the family was the natural place to start. but they threatened to kill them if they spoke to the press. but i did find a group willing to share what they knew.
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>> i was saying last year was a really tough year for us. not just for us, but for the county in general. >> if you have any kids interested. >> he was sent to them by her middle school amid-concern about her truancy and possible gang ties. only to lose her to the gang. >> i have had the opportunity to meet her mom. and from what i have seen, she was really loved by her family. she was actually a really good student. but something happened. there were concerns because of the associations she had had. >> she came to the country and
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didn't know her mom because so much time had elapsed. that's the story for a lot of these kids. particularly for the mothers, we call it the mama wound. it's really deeply engrained in them. and when they come here, they reunify and things don't go the way they us had hoped it would go. they immediately feel unwelcomed. the weaker the gang the stronger they feel. they are filling a void these young people need to be filled. >> armed with tactics of seduction, coercion and threats, ms13 has had no shortage of potential recruits. over 100,000 unaccompanied minors have arrived in the united states since 2014, and
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most are vulnerable to recruitment. under the cover of night, i met one such target, a young teen recently reunited with his mother after a decade apart. how old were you the first time you saw someone get killed? >> 9. >> you were 9 years old? did a lot of your friends join ms13 in el salvador? >> yes, ten of my friends joined ms13. >> what happened to their lives? >> two of them are dead already. >> were you ever approached to join ms13? >> they asked me a lot of times if i didn't join because they said they're going to protect me, they're going to give me money, going to make me famous. >> do you know a lot of kids here in america who have joined the gangs? >> yes. half of my friends are from the
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gang. >> what kind of people are they? >> they have two face. they got the sweet face that make you fall in love with them. then they make the bad face that say, you want to join the gang? >> and someone who has been approached by gangs multiple times, how do you think the gang problem can be solved? >> i don't have a solution. the gang's never going to end because if you kill a snake, the babies are going to make the same thing. they don't have an end. ♪ i don't care where we go ♪ and i don't care what we do ♪ just take me with you there are roadside attractions. and then there's our world-famous on-road attraction. the 2019 glc. lease the glc300 for just $469 a month at your local mercedes-benz dealer.
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with ms murders on the rise, pressure is mounting on local police. in virginia, that battle is being waged at outposts like the fairfax county police department. this sergeant with the gang unit is an experienced hand when it comes to the lethal tactics used by ms13. >> we're just going to come down here and look at some weapons that we've taken off of people. >> okay. these weapons were confiscated from ms13 members? >> oh, yeah. >> these machetes? >> that's kind of the tools of the trade for ms. >> are there other gangs who use
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ma sh machetes? >> just based on my experience it is characteristic for ms13. you see this a lot down in el salvador. >> i feel chills because i watched the video of the dameris killing. >> it's a torture. >> brutal killing. >> a lot of times you can have one machete and one knife and you're passing it around. they do that just because they're involved with the murder, which then makes them to a higher level within the gang. >> in central america, machetes like these were adopted by ms13 as part of their brand. weapons that not only spread terror, but also leave psychological wounds. >> when we look at these young kids, they're coming from el salvador, honduras, guatemala, at an early age these kids are seeing killings. these kids are seeing bodies in the streets. so when they bring that up here, you're not dealing with a 12-year-old or 13-year-old.
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you're dealing with an adult who has seen tragedy upon tragedy. >> the history of blood shed and trauma is a common thread in the ranks of young ms13 recruits. and it surfaces in their crimes. >> all right, guys. today we're going to do operations plan and arrest op for four individuals. >> tonight i'll be riding with the sergeant and fairfax county's gang unit as they try to root out ms gang members. >> we're looking at others ms associated in the area. >> armed with warrants, the team hope to find and arrest several ms members wanted for assault. sergeant, tell me how many ms members do you believe are operating in your jurisdiction? >> that's a tough number. i want to say 1500, but that's a sliding number. the guys are transient. we've stopped guys from texas,
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new york, kind of all over. does that mean they're living here, staying here, are they driving through? what's the reason they're even here? >> so this is a pretty high-crime area? >> oh, yeah, robberies, stabbings, shootings. >> where are we heading now? >> to a neighborhood that's heavily ms13 area. called kormer. this neighborhood is for all intents and purposes controlled by ms. >> this housing block is a known hang out for the ms members being pursued by the police. y >> you smell that? >> i smell it. there's a problem. they have used warning signals or bird calls to sound the alarm of our arrival. the element of surprise has been lost. >> this one here is on the koerner giving the chirp-chirp sounds. we hold up on these guys on the
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bench. >> you smelled it? >> yeah. >> those guys are look outs to make sure nobody is speaking up on whoever is doing whatever here. it's a tactical advantage for them and disadvantage for us. >> back in the day you could very easily fage gang members. they had shaved heads and tattoos everywhere. it's not so easy any more, is it? >> no, not at all. >> ms may be elusive to outsiders but they maintain a strangle hold on latino communities like this one. harassing local for protection money and threatening to kill them if they don't cooperate. but the police have a secret weapon at their disposal. informants. in 2014, 12 members of an ms13 group called the park view crazies were busted on charges of mushrder, racketeering and
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illegal possession of hard weapons. one lone gangster got tired of the violence and became an informant. he fed the fairfax county police incriminating information about his members then walked away free from criminal prosecution. at our next stop, i get to see how someone on the inside could be flipped. we're at a typical suburban baseball field, but the ms tag on the fence, 503, the country code for el salvador, the cops say marks this place as gang territory. >> that looks like some k 2 mask. >> the police find a deadly narcotic called k-2. >> they're trying to get their weed on, man.
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>> which gives the sergeant an opportunity. what's going on with these guys is this >> these are known ms associate. he had drugs on him. >> so the known ms associate. what does that mean? >> he has been in the company of other ms associates we've either stopped, we've either arrested or they have actually admitted to us, yeah, i'm ms. but this is great intelligence gathering and also good leverage for us when he gets charged. it's something we can use to say, hey, listen, help us out, we can help you out. and maybe in the future he'll come back and say, hey, i want to talk to you about dealings with the gang. >> so tonight they let him go. at a later date these cops can clear his record in exchange for intel on the gang. no one knows the strategy better than gang unit detective ken comfer. he's responsible 0 negotiating agreements with confidential informants. can you talk about how you
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leverage your informants? >> it could be somebody who is trying to work charges off, be somebody who is disgruntled. it could be somebody who has been threatened and is looking for some sort of protection or somebody who thinks that they're going to get rich from us. >> what are some of the things that informants disclose to you? >> we'll hear about the inner workings and plans being made and possible crimes that are going to be committed. >> what happens if an informant is discovered? >> i mean, they're green lighted. >> what does that mean when you're green lighted? >> green lighted means dead, the gang wants you dead. >> working as an informant is a dangerous double life. and i want to know what it's like to walk that line. i get a rare chance to speak with one at an undisclosed location. he's a paro, an entry level ms13 member. but now he wants out, so he's feeding the cops information about fellow gangsters.
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if they're arrested, it's a chance for him to flee the gang. can you talk about the rank structure? [ speaking in spanish ] >> what do you have to do to become a home boy? >> why did you start hanging out with the gang? >> if you continued on the path that you were on, could it be possible that the gang members could force you to participate in one of those group killings?
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>> are there a lot of kids like you who can't get out? >> can you ever get out of ms13?
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church, it's not the kind of place one would expect to find gang bangers. [ speaking foreign language ] >> more unlikely is to see one preaching from a pulpit. but pastor benia who once pledged his life to ms13 is now a humble servant of god.
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[ speaking foreign language ] >> when you were still in el salvador as a boy, how did you first come in contact with ms13? >> mostly my cousins who were older than me, they belong to ms13. when they were walking in the street, everybody was looking at them, the way they dress, the way they cut their hair and the way they walk. i like that. i want to be like that. >> the pastor came to washington, d.c. at the age of 13 and began running the streets with an ms clique. it's in his past he's guarded now. he experienced more violence and death than most people see in a lifetime. >> have you been shot?
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>> like twice. >> have you been close to death? >> yeah. but thank god, you know what i mean? >> how many of your home boys have been killed? >> most of them. >> how many times have you been in jail? >> three times more than that. the last one i was facing years. and who helped me when i was in the jail. from that time the lord told me you will behave. now you become my son. ♪ ♪ >> after his jail house redemption, this former outlaw became a preacher and worked long hours to raise his family. now his days with ms13 are long
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gone, gang life has left its mark. >> you have three dots on your hand. what does that represent? >> when you join, most ms, they do it. you want to go to the hospital? or jail or to the death? >> pastor bonia was part of the first wave of ms13 on the east coast with body tattoos. >> it means you're big-time gangsters. it's like a mark. don't mess with him. >> when you get into ms, it's blood in, blood out, the only way to get out is when you die. >> that's false. that's history. >> what was your way out? >> jesus christ. you know? you get tired sometimes of things. you get tired of police behind you. all the time you're going like -- because you don't know. you gotten ms. and you say, i
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want something different. and that happened to me. >> it is believed that ms13 is a lifetime commitment, but here and in el salvador, several hundred hard core members have already left the gang through evangelical conversions. pastor bonia claims thousands more await a chance to do the same. ms13 is a notorious gang, but somehow it seems to respect or even fear god. >> even the devil respect the lord. nobody is going to come against the lord. he has the power. >> when you told the leader of your gang that you were leaving, what was the reaction? >> they not get mad, but they said, man, okay, if you decide that, but at the end they start watching you.
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>> they start watching you to make sure you really were kri christian? >> of course. >> i'm tempted to call the story a miracle but this kind of religious exemption from the gang has become a acceptable practice here and in el salvador. it makes me wonder if all ms members are really as irredeemable as some would have us believe. do you believe that the hardest hearts can be softened? >> of course, i can prove that. i thought i'm not going to change. >> how bad was your heart? >> really bad. sometimes you don't want to exist. but you want a solution. every human being, they want a good life. smiling, not getting mad all the time, like jesus. it's only him give me another opportunity. i don't go back to do things that you're not supposed to do. see what i mean?
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when thousands of unaccompanied minors flooded the
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d.c. suburbs in 2014, schools and medical clinics struggled to care for new arrivals. and ms13 seized the moment to prey on young women. some became girlfriends of gangsters. others were forced into sex trafficking. and a rare few actually joined the gang. inside the suburban strip mall, one woman is trying to stay a step ahead of ms13 by forging bonds of trust with young girls at risk of gang recruitment. >> like half a step. are you ready? >> her name is emily and she's a counselor with the straight outreach network. ♪ ♪ ♪ first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get
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respe respect ♪ ♪ >> i think it's a lot younger and the target is the incoming population from central america and some of them because they're fleeing violence, but the refuge they do find is within a gang. my young ladies tend to search on social media for likes or, you know, some kind of affirmation of, yes, you're beautiful. so i think that they're very vulnerable to recruitment. >> oh, my god, what are we doing? >> make sure you stay hydrated. >> how would you define your role in these girls' lives? >> i would say i'm aimen or, first off. >> don't forget the grand finale. >> i'm not judging anything they do in their lives. i'm very open to whatever they have to say and so i kind of play that role of like i'm going to listen to you. i'm going to advocate for you. and so they tend to gravitate towards that.
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>> you guys are adorable. >> thank you. >> what would you say is going on in your lives right now that makes having someone like emily important? >> well, i don't get along with my mom basically. i have my good times with my mom because at the end of the day she's my mom. but like i could text her and she checks up on me. i feel like i can trust her and i can let me feelings out. >> so it's helped you a lot. >> i was always in the counselor's office, the office, always with security, always with the principals. but it's not like that no more. i'm more focused on what i got to do. >> like the other day, i was going to fight this girl. i was like, don't fight. i was going to put my hands on her. she kept texting me. she would calm me down through
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the text. >> the trial i attended was a girl 17 when she murdered a 15-year-old allegedly over a boy. it was interesting to hear the girls tonight talk about how these fights break out over the little things. >> it escalates because again they don't know how to deal with their anger or frustration. because every gang member we work with has had a long history of trauma. >> that's a pretty bold statement. >> it's safe to say that people do not choose to be in this life if they're not missing something. that's essential to life. >> have you noticed the levels of violence become more extreme in the last couple of years? >> it's so much more. i mean, aggressive. it's like i'm going to make it look as violent and as horrible as you can imagine so that you don't mess with us. we just recently had a few homicides a few miles from where we are now. it comes with the job, but it does not make it any easier.
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i mean, it can really break your heart. it can really break your heart. >> watching these girls, i can't help but think of damaris and venus. they were both from the same hometown and came to the u.s. the same year with hopes of a better life. now one is dead and the other could spend the rest of her life in prison. i wanted to see if venus would talk to me about why she did what she did. to my surprise, she agreed. directv gives you more for your thing. if you've been waiting for a sign to quit cable, then here's some signs. ♪ quit cable it came from the toaster. ♪ quit cable uh... ♪ quit cable
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(beeping) huh. at fairfax county adult detention center, venus awaits sentencing for the murder of damaris reyes. while waiting for the trial, her attorney learned new details about her life in el salvador. after her mother moved to the united states, venus disappeared one day on her way home from school. she was reported missing, but the police had no leads. three weeks later venus was finally located. she had been abducted, beaten, and raped by ms13 gang members.
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she was 14 years old. when her mother learned what happened, she had venus sent to america to keep her safe and away from the gang. but that's not what happened. venus granted us an exclusive interview, but the jail denied us access, so she answered some of my questions about how she ended up behind bars in writing. here is what she said. "i came to this country in 2014. seeing my mother again after almost eight years apart was difficult because even though we always maintained contact, it was like being with a stranger. looking at her face reminds me that i failed her and makes me feel that i neither deserve her or her love. i am not a member of any gang.
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it's very easy to be wrongly influenced by those who say they are your friends when you're young because they make you see things as rose colored in the beginning. i simply went to them because i was looking for a place to fit in, where i could feel i belonged. obviously i chose the wrong place and people. of course, i am remorseful for having killed damaris. i think only someone who is crazy would not feel guilt for taking the life of someone. i would give so much to be able to turn back time to that day and avoid what happened. what i want the parents of damaris to know is that i truly lament my actions. i do not have the words to explain how sorry i am. even if i did have them, i know that does not change anything.
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the damage is done." >> a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the united states and all around the world. you are watching cnn newsroom. i'm rosemary church. want to update you on the stories we're following this hour. the u.s. and china are hitting each other with tariffs. just hours ago the u.s. imposed a 10% tax on $200 billion in chinese goods. this round hits thousands of consumer goods like furniture and electronics. china is retaliating with tariffs on $60 billion in u.s. exports. iran is vowing deadly and unforgettable revenge after a terror attack at a


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