Posted on July 30, 2019

MS-13 Gang Created Beachhead at LA-Area High School, But Authorities Insisted on Secrecy

Howard Blume and Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2019

Law enforcement and school officials have defended 21 months of secrecy around the murder investigation of a Panorama High School student at the hands of MS-13 — one part of a grisly rampage that has generated national headlines and left at least 10 people dead.

They said there was no need to alert teachers, parents and students because other students were never in danger, the gang had little presence on campus, and no acts of gang violence affected the campus itself.

But a month before the October 2017 off-campus slaying of Brayan Andino, another incident linked to MS-13 erupted at the edge of the San Fernando Valley campus.

At least two MS-13 members, including two former Panorama students, are suspected of stabbing and wounding a student as he was leaving school, officials acknowledged.


Law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times that MS-13 had established a significant beachhead at Panorama. And, although Brayan, 16, was killed off campus, it was two girls at the school who investigators say coaxed him to Lake Balboa Park, where gang members, including other classmates, were waiting.

The L.A. Unified School District has denied the presence of a gang clique at the school and said it left the question of whether parents and students should have been alerted to investigators.


Only after authorities announced federal indictments of 22 adults on racketeering and murder charges on July 16 did officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District acknowledge that students from Panorama High had also been arrested.

Prosecutors allege that all of the accused are members of a violent subset of MS-13 that killed seven people — including Brayan — over a span of more than two years. Three more deaths linked to MS-13 are being handled in state court, officials said.


One result of the secrecy was that after Brayan went missing in late October 2017, school administrators said nothing about it. When his body was found in mid-December they continued to stay mum. Nor was there word about his funeral or any statements of condolence. Principal Rafael Gaeta referred to Brayan as “missing,” said staff members interviewed by the Times. {snip}

Then in February 2018, a sweep netted about 10 suspects in Brayan’s killing. At least seven were Panorama High students, according to teachers, although Hayes puts the number at five. That’s not including the two involved in the stabbing. Authorities kept the arrests quiet for 17 more months.

Investigators were “concerned about the flight risk of suspects and the loss of critical information,” said Capt. William P. Hayes, who commands the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division. He said that the February sweep brought in some suspects on lesser charges than murder — and that any publicity could have tipped off gang members about the magnitude of the investigation.

Hayes also said that it could have been risky to provoke talk about MS-13 among students while the gang might still have a presence at the school, and that he didn’t want students inadvertently making themselves targets. {snip}


One law enforcement official familiar with the investigation characterized Panorama High as “recruiting ground” for MS-13. The source requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about the case. Students later implicated in the murder had been disciplined by the school for tagging and wearing MS-13 paraphernalia, the official said.

MS-13’s foothold at the school “was something known” to officials, the source added.