A Georgia teenager has been accused of stabbing a 14-year-old girl to death in a suspected MS-13 gang initiation.
The 15-year-old boy, who Oxygen.com isn't naming, allegedly told Marietta police he knifed Janina Valenzuela “multiple times” last week as “part of an initiation” into MS-13, according to two separate warrants obtained by Oxygen.com.
“[The] accused admitted that the said act was part of an initiation into the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) criminal street gang,” one warrant stated.
The teen allegedly told police he targeted Valenzuela because she was a member of rival street crew, the 18th Street Gang. The 15-year-old allegedly misled investigators in their search for Valenzuela’s body, which was discovered in a creek behind an apartment building on Friday.
“[He] concealed the victim’s death and the whereabouts of her remains by continuously lying to the police during the course of their investigation,” his arrest warrant stated.
He was booked and charged with murder, aggravated assault with a weapon, concealing death, and street gang terrorism. Authorities are currently planning to try the suspect as an adult.
“Our community has all been affected by this senseless tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and everyone involved,” officer Charles McPhilamy, told Oxygen.com.
“This is an active investigation and anyone with information related to these families of this incident is urged to contact our investigators at the Marietta Police Department.”
Authorities declined to comment further, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Valenzuela was described as a “beautiful girl,” according to a GoFundMe page for the slain teen.
“While on her bike, she was being chased by a young man with a weapon,” Erika Mendez, who organized a GoFundMe page for the family, stated.
A funeral service will be held for Valenzuela on April 15.
MS-13, a transnational criminal enterprise that originated in El Salvador, first began operating in California in the 1980s, according to federal prosecutors. Government officials estimate the group has swelled to roughly 10,000 members domestically. The gang has a “very large presence” in Georgia’s Cobb County, as well, authorities said, where its associates are known to carry out a spectrum of violent crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking.
“MS-13 has concentrations in a number of places around the country,” David M. Kennedy, a violence intervention specialist and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told Oxygen.com.
“They absolutely do show up in different places and where they’re active they can be extremely serious.”
Long Island, New York, particularly has seen a rise in violent MS-13 activity in recent years. The Latin gang is believed to be behind nearly half of Suffolk County’s 45 homicides between Jan. 2016 and May 2017, according to the Center For Latin American and Latino Studies. And since MS-13 became a priority of the federal government, a number of gang initiation murder cases have been prosecuted.
However, Kennedy, who has been researching street-level gangs for roughly 30 years, said that generally speaking, such violent murder-for-membership initiations are often “complete mythology.”
“It’s along the lines of things that people believe such as the warnings that come out regularly that if you blink your headlights at a car with gang members in it, they’ll kill you and things like that,” he added.
Occasionally, he explained, prospective gang members are misled into believing this to be true, which can lead to senseless killings. He said that gang initiation practices, such as “jumping in,” where recruits receive 13-second beatings from other members in order to gain membership, are more widespread.
”There’s essentially no truth to any of that,” Kennedy added. “These kinds of gang initiations [murders] are essentially unheard of, they just don’t happen.”
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