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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Murders, rapes, drugs and extortion are the calling cards of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13.

Murders, rapes, drugs and extortion are the calling cards of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13.According to the FBI, MS-13 operates in at least 42 states, with the largest concentrations in California, the District of Columbia, New York and Virginia.The gang originated in Los Angeles, but now they're putting down roots in Northern California."Two years ago, we have never heard of MS-13," Yuba City police Sgt. Brian Bernardas said. "Now we have 26 or 27 of them."Bernardas, on the gang task force, called MS-13 one of the most brutal gangs. Body and facial tattoos come with the territory."I am talking shootings. I am talking stabbings. I am talking murders," he said.But members are holding down regular 9-to-5 jobs, mostly in construction or farming.An undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who spent several years infiltrating MS-13 said now that the economy has dwindled, gang members are moving into rural communities.Police said gang members are getting younger by the day -- some as young as 9 or 10 years old. So in Lincoln, residents have decided to take it upon themselves to rid their streets of gangs one child at a time.Karen Hernandez is president of the nonprofit group called REDIRECT. Its mission to help kids stay off the street by offering alternatives to the gang lifestyle, such as spending time at the Lincoln Community Center."It takes a community to raise a child. That is what we are going after," she said.Former gang member Alejantro Tomas, 14, said he can only image where he'd be without REDIRECT."I wouldn't be here in Lincoln. I would be on the run," he said.
And while organizations such as REDIRECT work to change lives, police and other authorities work to change gang culture one arrest at a time.


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