As proceedings continue after the recent death of a Gaithersburg teen, county police are asking residents to work with police in reporting and ending gang-related activity.
On Feb. 11, the remains of Gaithersburg resident Damaris Alexandra Reyes Rivas were uncovered in a Springfield, Virginia, industrial park. According to court documents, 10 people were charged in Fairfax County in connection with the case, including five who were charged with her murder.
One of the defendants told police he was associated with the MS-13 gang and participated in the abduction of Reyes.
Captain Paul Liquorie, director of the Montgomery County Police Department’s special investigations unit that oversees investigations into potentially gang-related incidents, said that while overall gang-related crimes have decreased in the county, there has been a “spike” in gang-related murder.
“When we look at gang activity overall, it’s pretty level, with the exception of homicides,” said Liquorie. “That’s obviously a big concern.”
According to Liquorie, there have been 15 gang-related homicides in the county since June 2015. Seven of these were connected to MS-13, an organization that originated in Central America but eventually spread to the United States. MS-13 has a considerable presence in the Washington, D.C., metro region, including Montgomery County.
In January, the remains of New Jersey resident Jordy Mejia were found in Gaithersburg. Gaithersburg resident Reynaldo A. Granados-Vasquez and Jose Israel Melendez-Rivera of Montgomery Village were among those charged in Mejia’s murder.
Two potential challenges face police when it comes to investigating potentially gang-related crimes. The first is determining whether or to what extent a given incident is, indeed, gang-related.
“It’s a very difficult thing to say,” Liquorie said. “If I have somebody arrested for crimes, and they fit the criteria for a gang member, it can still be hard to compile (the data) because it’s hard to differentiate gang versus non-gang (activity).”
The second is an abiding silence about the crimes in the areas where the crimes tend to occur. Fear of retaliation and concerns over immigration status drive this reluctance to speak with police, Liquorie said.
“There’s definitely an intimidation factor,” Liquorie said. “But (gang members) work under the premise that the public will remain silent. And that emboldens them. … The Latino community is the most victimized (by gang activity), and we need their assistance in recognizing where the gang activity may be occurring.”
Liquorie also pledged that police in Montgomery County would not ask about someone’s immigration status if that person chose to come forward with information about any criminal activity, gang-related or otherwise.
“Anyone who doesn’t have (legal citizen) status in the county can still report crimes,” Liquorie said. “We do not even ask about status. … Any suspicious activity that the public sees should be reported.”