Two days after Baltimore County police charged seven people in a killing that investigators say was tied to the MS-13 gang, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said gang activity — all gang activity — is a problem throughout the Baltimore region that his administration takes “very seriously."
MS-13 is active in Maryland but more common in the D.C. suburbs, as federal prosecutors allege in a racketeering case against two dozen purported members. The prosecutors say the gang has operated primarily in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Members of MS-13 have been charged with murder, drug trafficking, extortion and other crimes.
“We take all criminal activity — gang or otherwise — very seriously, and we’re working with our police department to make sure all of our neighborhoods are safe,” Olszewski said.
Baltimore County detectives say members of MS-13 stalked 21-year-old Daniel Alejandro Alvarado Cuellar home from a laundromat in July and stabbed him to death — one killer allegedly armed with a machete-style knife — outside his apartment in Towson. Investigators attributed the killing to a war between two Latino street gangs, 18th Street and MS-13.
Cuellar had been seen making a hand gesture that was believed to be “indicative of an affiliation with the 18th Street,” detectives wrote in charging documents.
Police announced Tuesday that they had arrested and charged seven alleged MS-13 members with murdering Cuellar, making him the latest victim of the gang feud.
Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt was not available for an interview Thursday, according to a police spokesman.
According to the FBI, there are around 10,000 active members in the MS-13 gang, which was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants fleeing civil war and which sees its largest pockets in California and New York as well as outside of Washington, D.C.
While about 186,000 Salvadorans call Maryland home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, they’ve historically settled in towns like Adelphi, Langley Park and North Brentwood. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions raised eyebrows in 2017 when he visited Baltimore and suggested that the gang was having an impact in the region, despite no notable arrests linked to the gang in the city.
In the federal racketeering case, prosecutors wrote that federal investigators have been tracking the gang’s activity in the region dating to 2015, and yet none of the shootings, assaults and killings outlined in that case trace back to Baltimore County.
Authorities say the gang is particularly ruthless toward rival gang members, often carrying out assaults and murders just for belonging to the competing group.
Last year, Elvin Diaz-Hernandez pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge, admitting in a plea agreement that he and another man lured a man believed to be a rival gang member to the woods in Frederick on April 7, 2015, before they stabbed and sliced him to death with a machete and knife.
Diaz-Hernandez was a Baltimore County resident.
Despite police attributing the Towson killing to MS-13, Olszewski said crime in the county is “on the decline” overall and the arrests exemplify the county’s efforts to prosecute killings, he said.
Olszewski remains concerned about the number of homicides in the county this year, but he said they’re “actively going after that” problem. In addition to “the everyday work” police do to monitor neighborhoods, he said the Baltimore County Police Department has a team to address gang activity. Part of this team’s work involves regularly monitoring social media “and other sorts of communication” to identify and disrupt criminal activity, he said.
Olszewski also said the newly announced federal “strike force” composed of detectives, prosecutors and federal agents from across the region will help target and disrupt drug gangs within the Baltimore region.
“We’re taking one more step about being proactive to ensure that not just Baltimore County residents, but that residents in the entire region are safe,” he said. “We’re stopping crime at its root.”