Posted on August 16, 2005

Gangs Penetrate W.Va. Panhandle

Vicki Smith, AP, Aug. 16

BLOOMERY, W.Va. — A secluded spot along the Shenandoah River where the loudest noises come from tires crunching gravel and water rushing over a dam seems an unlikely setting for a meeting of big-city gang members.

But here on a narrow road just across the Virginia line, authorities say, members of MS-13, one of the country’s most violent gangs, have begun to congregate.

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MS-13 is shorthand for Mara Salvatrucha, a gang founded in Los Angeles by refugees from El Salvador. Federal authorities consider it one of the country’s most vicious street gangs and estimate it has about 10,000 members in more than 30 states.

Earlier this year, after several killings in the D.C. region, the FBI announced a crackdown. Hundreds of members have since been arrested and some have been deported.

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Police suspect MS-13 in only a few assaults and robberies, but Jefferson County Sheriff Ed Boober is certain the gang is present and preying on some of the county’s newest residents.

A growing number of Hispanic immigrants have found work here, lured by the apple orchards, the booming construction market and the thoroughbred racing industry at the Charles Town Races and Slots. However, they often arrive alone and friendless, a situation the gang can exploit.

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