Unspeakable Times

18 Facts & Stories About MS-13, the World's Most Notorious Gang

“Kill, rape, control.” That's the motto for Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a transnational criminal organization dubbed “the most dangerous gang in the world.” The gang formed in the ‘80s and has its roots in the fertile gang soil of Los Angeles. MS-13 is predominantly made up of Salvadoran immigrants who sought refuge in the United States during the Salvadoran Civil War, and is known for aggressive crimes throughout Central and North America. Members prefer machetes and knives to guns, as such weapons make a kill more personal and agonizing. Members of Mara Salvatrucha are best known for their tattooed faces.

From small-time origins, the MS-13 gang has grown into an international threat. The gang even has complete control of an El Savador prison, a place where guards are too terrified to enter. These Mara Salvatrucha facts and horror stories may surprise you.

  • The Gang Is So Ruthless It Made El Salvador The Murder Capital Of The World

    MS-13 is notorious for brutality. The gang's motto is “mata, viola, controla” or,  "kill, rape, control." Members don’t just engage in drive-by shootings; they get personal using machetes, reportedly because they're cheaper and more savage than firearms.

    “MS-13 glorifies violence above all else,” said Assistant US Attorney Julia Martinez. She was involved in a case where a young MS-13 member was lured into a park in by fellow members, stabbed repeatedly, and then decapitated. He owed them $600. 

    Along with the rival gang Barrio 18, MS-13 made El Salvador the "Murder Capital of the World," according to ABC News. The country's homicide rate is 22 times that of the US. In the first few months of 2016, there was a murder every hour in the country. In 2015, there were 6,656 murders in El Salvador. It's the highest homicide rate in the world for a nation at peace.

  • MS-13 Members Went On A Killing Spree On Long Island in 2016

    In October 2016, authorities arrested 35 MS-13 members in Long Island in connection to several killings in Brentwood, NY, most notably for the murder of two teenage girls. The girls were beaten to death, and their bodies were found 50 feet from each other, close to an elementary school.

    All told, six bodies discovered in Brentwood in just over a month and the Suffolk County police commissioner said at least five of the people arrested were high-ranking MS-13 members. 

  • MS-13's Brutal Rivalry With Barrio 18 Once Led To 16 Murders A Day For A Month

    MS-13’s biggest rivalry is with Barrio 18, or the 18th Street gang. Barrio 18 emerged in the late ‘60s as a faction of the Clanton 14 gang. It was originally a Mexican-American gang in Los Angeles, but later accepted members of other Latin American nationalities. Their presence grew in Central America in the ‘90s as a result of the same deportations that affected MS-13.

    MS-13 had a brief truce with Barrio 18 in 2013, but it dissolved after a year. This led to the deadliest month El Salvador had seen in more than a decade. About 16 people were murdered every day, and some believe the truce was a cover to allow the gangs to expand.

  • Some MS-13 Members Have Ties To The Armed Forces Of El Salvador

    According to a former gang member interviewed for the History Channel series Gangland, some of the immigrants streaming into the US from El Salvador had trained for and fought with their native country's armed forces. Because of this, they were more accustomed to modern warfare than other gangs in LA who were used to battles on the streets.

    By way of example, the former MS-13 member cited fellow members walking up to rival gang affiliates and shooting them in the face without blinking.