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MS-13 reign was public and bloody

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The street gang MS-13 left a bloody imprint during its decade-long turf war in Gwinnett.

Gunmen in the notoriously violent organization manned by Central American nationals halted at no racial, gender or socioeconomic boundaries when it came to killing. They specialized in sending messages, in committing heinous acts in public places that drew headlines.

And they knew how to vanish.

Federal, state and local authorities called an indictment that names 26 MS-13 members a crippling blow that, for the most part, has eradicated the group from metro Atlanta and its strongholds -- Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.

A two-year investigation that teamed federal agencies with Gwinnett police and Sheriff's Department, and city departments such as Norcross police, has cleared 71 MS-13 gangsters from the streets, including 19 who've been deported, said Acting U.S. Attorney Sally Yates.

On Friday, Gwinnett police detailed six Gwinnett killings since 2005 perpetrated by MS-13 players. In some cases, Gwinnett police had arrested lead suspects early, and the federal round-up snared co-defendants, said spokesman Cpl. David Schiralli.

In other instances, information provided by federal authorities proved key in cold cases unsolved for years. Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter called the MS-13 takedown a prime example of inter-agency cooperation.

The "battle" against MS-13 wages on, he said.

Though its Gwinnett roots trace back to the late '90s, MS-13 violence sharply spiked in 2005, the same year Maria Olvera-Reyes' body was found Sept. 10 inside a vehicle near a Lawrenceville Catholic church. The 24-year-old, slumped over in the driver's seat, had been shot several times in her head.

Parishioners arriving for a Saturday vigil found her.

Her ex-boyfriend, MS-13 member Hector Acosta, is charged in the killing.

Public killings committed by MS-13 factions continued the following year.

In October, Lal Ko, 20, was gunned down near the intersection of Oakland and Herrington roads in Lawrenceville after he argued with MS-13 members. Three men are charged in the killing, including Miguel Gonzalez-Linares, 21, who allegedly ordered the hit.

On Christmas Eve 2006, Jesus Gonzales, 20, was fatally shot by MS-13 members while riding in a Toyota Corolla on Interstate 85 in Lawrenceville. The driver was injured but survived.

And on the night of Aug. 5, 2007, the gang claimed its youngest local victim when a gunman shot 16-year-old David Hernandez Cruz of Norcross, a suspected a rival gang member.

Cruz was painting lines in the parking lot of a Jimmy Carter Boulevard gas station where he worked when he was shot. He later died at Gwinnett Medical Center.

The indictment names Ernesto Escobar, nicknamed "Pink Panther," as the MS-13 trigger man.

Schiralli, the Gwinnett spokesman, said 14 incidents bearing the MS-13 imprint in Gwinnett date back to 2005.

Gwinnett police have 25 officers assigned to gang and crime suppression units to continue combating gangs, he said.